With the Heat jockeying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, every game down the stretch had big implications for the team and its point guard. Add a first showdown against fellow national team member Luka Doncic with 2,000 Slovenian fans along for the ride, and a March 28 Mavericks-Heat game quickly took on a life of its own along Miami's Biscayne Bay.
"It felt like we were in Ljubljana [Slovenia]," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters postgame.
Here's a look at how fans who made the more than 5,000-mile journey took American Airlines Arena by storm and created a unique experience for Slovenian stars Dragic and Doncic.
Slovenian fans were easy to spot in the crowd, as many wore green scarves and T-shirts that read "I Feel Slovenia" and depicted countrymen Doncic and Dragic. Approximately 2,000 Slovenian fans traveled to Miami and were peppered throughout American Airlines Arena. During the game, the fans took over the atmosphere with their soccer-style chants rooting for both Doncic and Dragic.
A group of Slovenian fans who made the trip gathered and chatted over drinks at Rakija Lounge, a bar and restaurant in Miami Beach, the night before the Mavericks-Heat showdown. Rakija became a popular meet-up spot for visiting Slovenians because of its Balkan atmosphere, familiar cuisines and Balkan liquors. At any point of the day or night, Slovenian cheers and toasts could be heard throughout the bar.
For many of the Slovenians, this was the first trip to the United States. "Slovenia is beautiful, but this is like a dream," said Jan Gioahion, third from right.
Magda Kuznik, right, helped her friend Mojca Reven with a Slovenian flag temporary tattoo while they gathered with fellow Slovenians at Segafredo Bayside before watching the game.
This was Reven's and Kuznik's first trip to the United States. In the days leading up to the game, Reven traveled to Orlando and Key West.
When asked which player she would be cheering for more, Reven didn't pick a favorite. She simply said, "Slovenian people are one today."
Hundreds of Slovenian fans gathered at Segafredo Bayside draped in Slovenian flags and attire, and they belted out Slovenian songs and cheers before watching Doncic face off against Dragic.
Slovenian fans stood for a photo with Luka Doncic's mother, Mirjam Poterbin, second from left, while one fan held a cutout of her son's face before game. Poterbin was stopped constantly for pictures with fans near the arena before the game.
"It's like we're at home," Saso Kredar said of the sheer number of Slovenians who traveled to Miami for the game.
As tipoff approached, Slovenian fans made their presence known as they approached American Airlines Arena draped in Slovenian flags and scarves. The moment was nearly a year in the making, as Slovenians prepared for the journey that brought around 2,000 people from a country with a population of 2 million to the United States for the game.
During his warm-up, Dragic stopped for a photo with a crowd of cheering Slovenian fans. "The atmosphere was unbelievable," he said.
Doncic drove to the basket while being guarded by Dragic. Even though this was their first game against each other in the NBA, Dragic and Doncic have known each other for years. They were roommates in 2017 when they both played for Slovenia's national team, which won the European Basketball Championship that year.
Slovenian fans watched closely as the score remained tight toward the end. The Heat won 105-99, with Dragic recording 23 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his second career triple-double and first of the season to help the Heat regain eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Doncic scored a team-high 19 points but missed 12 of his 18 shots. Despite the loss, it was a special night for the Mavs rookie.
"It was great," Doncic said. "Honestly, maybe for the first time in my career, I was nervous before the game. It was different for me."
A Slovenian fan looked toward the video board while showing her country's pride during the Mavericks-Heat game. Even though they were spread throughout American Airlines Arena, the fans were easy to spot and erupted in Slovenian cheers such as, "Who does not jump is not Slovenian!"
After the game, Dragic greeted fellow Slovenian and popular sports fan Aleksander Javornik. Dragic thanked the fans who traveled to Miami to watch his and Doncic's first NBA matchup, ending the night with a Slovenian cheer.
"To buy a ticket, to fly from a different continent here and to stay here and support us," Dragic said, "it's something amazing."
Additional reporting by ESPN's Stefano Fusaro.