By Simon Gardner and David Alire Garcia
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Delighted following a packed house at Wednesday's regular clash between the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBA is eyeing further growth in Mexico next year but any eventual franchise south of the border is still some ways off.
Some 19,000 fans whooped and cheered as the two National Basketball Association teams racked up more than 200 points between them, with messages in Spanish that translated to "Did you see that?" and "Incredible!" blaring across giant screens showing slam dunks and a wealth of three-pointers.
Houston topped the Timberwolves 113-101 in the NBA's first regular season game in Mexico since 1997, as the Rockets improved to 7-1 on the season.
It was an auspicious return for the NBA to Mexico after a generator caught fire last year as the San Antonio Spurs were about to take on the Timberwolves, cancelling the game.
Top NBA brass expect more regular season games in the Mexican capital next year.
"It's definitely very likely," Philippe Moggio, the NBA's top executive for Latin America, told Reuters in an interview.
Moggio said the league regularly discusses a possible franchise in Mexico, but it is no slam dunk.
The game came as Mexico is grappling with a rash of drug gang violence, including the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers a three-hour drive from Mexico City around seven weeks ago.
While most of the violence has taken place outside the capital, dismembered bodies have been dumped in trash bags on the streets of Mexico City just a few kilometers from the arena.
Moggio said security is a "top-level concern across everything the NBA does", but it was too early to say whether that would factor into any future expansion plan.
Soccer-crazed Mexico City, a megalopolis of over nine million people, would be a tough sell for a permanent NBA franchise, said Alejandro Facio, a 22-year-old communications student.
"I don't think a permanent team is such a good idea. The (NBA) should come sporadically so that it's special," he said.
Elizabeth Reyes, a 33-year-old government worker in the state of Durango and avid basketball player, was more upbeat.
"We'd be spellbound if the NBA were to come here," she said, as the Rockets' star center Dwight Howard went on to score a game-high 22 points. "The NBA is the best!"
(Editing by Gene Cherry)