BY CARLOS RODRIGUEZ
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Professional athletes playing in Mexico City are always aware of the invisible opponent that is the altitude. But not Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The NBA MVP and the Thunder arrived on Wednesday night South of the Border to face the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA’s 25th game in Mexico more concerned about dinner than the altitude.
“I don’t know nothing about the altitude, to be honest, I just play,” Westbrook said at the team’s hotel in an upscale part of town. “If you are in shape then you are in shape and if you are not then you are not.”
Sitting at 7,350 feet above sea level, Mexico’s capital is at a far higher elevation than Denver — the NBA’s highest venue at 5,280 feet.
Professional teams try different approaches to avoid the effects of the altitude on the body and usually, arriving as close to a game as possible is regarded as the way to go. The NFL champions New England Patriots did just that and arrived a few hours prior to a game against the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 19 and got a convincing win.
“You have to be ready to go, it’s kind of the equivalent to playing on the second game of a back-to-back in my opinion,” Andre Robertson said. “We’ll try to adjust but I think it will be fine, we are all in the same category, we are going to be tired and they are going to be tired.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said that he’s not planning to alter their substitutions pattern to adjust better to the altitude and that the team will visit the Arena Ciudad de Mexico on Thursday morning to try to get acclimated.
“We played a lot of games in Denver, I don’t think this will be much different,” Donovan said. “I have a lot of respect for the players, one for the way they take care of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally, and two, for the way they prepare every day because every 48 hours it’s a new team, a new situation and a new environment.”
For the Thunder, the game will be their fourth so far in December and the fifth in eight days. They played at Orlando on Nov. 29 and then beat Minnesota, San Antonio and Utah at home.
“It’s part of the job and it’s something that we love to do, and you can’t complain,” Westbrook said. “I love playing basketball, I love traveling it’s something that we are blessed to do.”
Westbrook said that this it’s his first trip to Mexico City and that he has been to Los Cabos before so he knows that dinner may involve some tacos.
“For sure, I think it’s definitively a possibility,” said Westbrook about trying the Mexican cuisine. “I don’t know where, but definitively.”
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