For weeks, the Miami Heat felt like the piñata, opponents constantly poking holes into what had been a season projected to provide ample treats.
Now, even while mostly working shorthanded, it is the Heat who are operating as the ones wielding a big stick, on a three-game winning streak with the opportunity to move above .500 for the first time this season.
So perhaps it is only fitting that the final stop on this four-game trip delivers them to Mexico City for Saturday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, with the piñata tradition believed to have originated in a town just north of Mexico City.
Typically, these NBA international showcases have required significant team involvement. But with such events largely scuttled during COVID seasons, it is more like a business trip for Erik Spoelstra’s team.
But that doesn’t mean it will feel like just another of the 82 regular-season games.
For forward Jimmy Butler, it is the rare opportunity to get back in the NBA regular-season spotlight, with the Heat, even with appearances in the Eastern Conference finals two or the past three seasons, limited in national-television appearances.
“I mean, we take ‘em as we can get ‘em — home, away, Mexico City — we’ll take it,” said Butler, who is coming off one of his most complete games of the season, with 20 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and three blocked shots in Thursday night’s 111-108 victory over the Houston Rockets. “I don’t feel like the NBA rocks with the Miami Heat too much, anyway.
“So at least we get to go play somewhere. We don’t get TV games or nothing.”
What the fans at Arena CDMX in The NBA Mexico City Game 2022 and those viewing on NBA TV will get is one of the league’s hottest players, with Heat guard Tyler Herro following up Wednesday night’s 35 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a career-high 41 against the Rockets in the victory that lifted the Heat to 15-15.
The pageantry of the unique venue, Herro said, is best left to others.
“The biggest part, we can get a game above .500 and then go home for a week and a half before we go out west,” Herro said. “I think that would be big for us if we can get that on Saturday and then go home and take care of business.
“But one game at a time, just keep it rolling.”
One unique game at a time, in this case.
For its part, the NBA is keeping it simple for the Heat.
While the NBA is hosting four clinics in conjunction with the game, the Heat’s scheduled representation in those activities is limited to Heat assistant coach Octavio De La Grana and former Heat forward Glen Rice, who works as a scout and community ambassador for the team.
Otherwise, an off day for the team in Mexico City after the Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back in Oklahoma City and Houston, the 5 p.m. game Saturday against the Spurs, and then back home for a homestand that stretches beyond Christmas, with four of the next five days off.
It is a trip designed to grow international appreciation for the game. But it also is one that comes with the Heat attempting to grow into something more cohesive in a season where injuries and absences even this week had left the team without Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry, among others.
“I think it’s a blessing to go play basketball every day, anyway,” Butler said of the stop south of the border. “But, for sure, I think guys are going to be able to see the culture and how basketball is loved everywhere around the world.
“I’m trying to go play some football, though. I’m trying to kick the ball around.”
Butler’s soccer fascination aside, it’s still a business trip, Herro said.
“This whole trip was important for us when we started five days ago,” Herro said of what began with Monday night’s victory over the Indiana Pacers. “We wanted to come out on this trip and take care of business.
“Hopefully we can go 4-0. But just one game at a time.”