NBA players from countries outside the USA are trying to qualify for the Olympics, and none of them have had a better game in the first few FIBA qualifiers than Boban Marjanovic. That goes for Luka Doncic as well.
The Dallas Mavericks centre scored 25 points on 12-for-18 shooting in an 83-76 victory over the Philippines in Belgrade, Serbia, in front of a packed COVID Hall crowd of 1,250 mostly home fans. Coach Igor Kokoskov gave Miami Heat forward Nemanja Bjelica a rest as Serbia held a 46-28 advantage in points in the paint.
“The Filipinos played like a team and I want to congratulate them for that. They fought hard,” said Kokoskov. “We will know more after watching. We have a lot of new names and some guys were missing. We didn’t react, we overreacted. We were defending instead of being in an attacking rhythm. It wasn’t nice, but we won.”
“At one point we relaxed. We played irresponsibly. That led to us playing uncertainly at the end. We shouldn’t let that happen,” said Milos Teodosic, Serbia’s captain.
After trailing 74-73, Serbia went on a 10-2 run and pulled out a win, advancing to the semifinals where it will play Puerto Rico or Italy.
Doncic had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in just 22 minutes of playing time as Slovenia defeated Poland 112-77. Slovenia, Lithuania, Venezuela and Poland have already advanced to the semi-finals.
Dončić played in a competitive international tournament for the first time since helping Slovenia to a historic victory at the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket as an 18-year-old. Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic is not playing, but he made the trip and was in the crowd at Zalgirio Arena.
“It’s also nice for me to play for the national team,” Doncic said. “That’s what I wish for. I can’t wait to play, so I’m very happy to be here. Everyone enjoys playing, everyone is having fun and that’s what we have to do.”
Doncic also touched on Dragic’s absence.
“Of course, I would have liked him to play with us… He was that guy at EuroBasket 2017. It’s great that he came all this way to support us. It means a lot, not just to me but to the whole federation.”
In Victoria, British Columbia, Canada fielded five NBA players – Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors, RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks, Corey Joseph of the Detroit Pistons, Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks and Trey Lyles of the San Antonio Spurs – and beat Greece to a 109-79 win over China.
Wiggins scored 20 points on 5-for-9 shooting and Barrett hit 3-for-7 from three-point range. He scored 16 points but missed half of his six free throws. Among those coming off the bench for Nick Nurse were Lugenz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Nickel Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans. Nicholson, who played in China last season, added 14 points off the bench.
“When you play together, the game is easy. When you are in a good rhythm, everyone will act offensively and defensively. We have a lot of unselfish guys. We all want to see each other win, get good results, and we just try to play aggressive, play to win, play right. I feel like if we keep playing like this, play together, the sky’s the limit for us,” Wiggins said.
Canada advanced to the semi-finals, as did Turkey. Greece, playing without Giannis Antitokounmpo, lead 0-1 before Thursday night’s game against China.
Croatia suffered the biggest disappointment of the qualifying process when the home team, led by Utah’s Bojan Bogdanovic, was defeated by Brazil 94-67. Brazil were led by 20 points from 35-year-old centre Rafael Nettsheimer. Bruno Caboclo, who was waived by the Houston Rockets in January, scored 16 points and NBA veteran Anderson Varejao scored 11. Brazil, ironically, are coached by Croatian Aleksandar Petrovic.
Despite this defeat, Croatia, Germany, Brazil and Mexico advanced to the semi-finals of the tournament in Split, while Russia and Tunisia dropped out.
In Lithuania, the home team lead 2-0 after victories over Venezuela and South Korea. Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis represent their home nation, who will play Poland in the semi-finals and Slovenia or Venezuela in the final qualifiers. Valanciunas is averaging 17.5 points and 12 rebounds in just under 19 minutes of play.
“It would be great to go to Tokyo,” said Valanciunas. Another Olympics for Lithuania as a country will mean a lot for us”.
“Our preparations have been difficult, but I think that’s what happens to everyone. We just come together and try to find that very ‘chemistry’ as soon as possible.”
Lithuania won bronze medals at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games as well as the 2010 World Championships in Turkey. If they qualify for the Olympics, they will play in the same group as Spain, Argentina and Japan.
The winner of the Canada tournament will be placed in a group with the United States and Iran, while the winners of the tournaments in Croatia and Serbia will be placed in a group with Australia and Nigeria. The Olympic men’s basketball tournament begins on July 25.