Friday, December 1, 2023

Basketball: Doncic sends World Cup signal as Slovenia hammers Japan

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Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic put on a basketball clinic Saturday in Tokyo as he led world No. 7 Slovenia to a 103-68 exhibition win over 36th-ranked Japan.

The four-time All-NBA player finished with 23 points, seven assists and seven rebounds at Ariake Arena, where the FIBA Basketball World Cup co-host started brightly before being thoroughly outgunned in its last warm-up game for the tournament starting Friday through Sept. 10.

Yudai Baba scored 13 points for a Japan side once again missing Phoenix Suns guard-forward Yuta Watanabe, who hurt his ankle Tuesday in a win over Angola.

Japan’s Makoto Hiejima scores on a layup against Slovenia in their Basketball World Cup warm-up game at Tokyo’s Ariake Arena on Aug. 19, 2023. (Kyodo)

While Japan’s three-point shooting had kept it in the game until late against France two days earlier, it connected on just 10 of 46 attempts from deep against Slovenia, with long rebounds leading to transition opportunities for the Balkan nation’s team.

Doncic repeatedly drew gasps from the crowd of 13,216 with his deep shot-making and spectacular passing, including a pinpoint behind-the-back assist to Jakob Cebasek for a three-pointer midway through the third quarter.

Just as it did in the 88-70 loss to France, Japan came out strongly, with U.S.-based collegiate star Keisei Tominaga opening his team’s account from beyond the arc on the way to a 21-26 first-quarter deficit for the host.

Japan players appear dejected after being beaten by Slovenia 103-68 in a warm-up game held at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on Aug. 19, 2023, ahead of the FIBA Basketball World Cup starting on Aug. 25 in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The Nebraska Cornhuskers guard went on to tally 10 points for a team needing a bigger output from its top scorer against France and its other sharpshooters.

“If you have too many empty possessions in a row where you don’t score, you can quickly find yourselves behind by double digits,” Japan head coach Tom Hovasse said.

Akatsuki Japan will be eager to have Watanabe, its go-to scorer and one of its best defenders, back in the lineup when it tips off the World Cup at Okinawa Arena against No. 11 Germany on Friday.

Japan forward-center Josh Hawkinson, a likely frontcourt starter alongside Watanabe, said the NBA swingman would be pivotal at both ends of the court.

“Yuta is just so talented at shot-making, driving, it’s going to create opportunities for other people to get open shots,” said the U.S.-born Hawkinson, who has spent his professional career in Japan’s B-League.

“His return will be huge, especially on the defensive end, because he’s such a great rebounder. We can push in transition and have a little more size at that four position.”

Slovenia will face Cape Verde, Georgia, and Venezuela in Okinawa-based Group F at the World Cup, which Japan is co-hosting with the Philippines and Indonesia.

Finland and Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Australia will be Japan’s other Group E opponents at Okinawa Arena.

Related coverage:

Basketball: Australia coach Goorjian says World Cup is gold or bust

Basketball: France takes over late in World Cup warm-up against Japan

Basketball: Watanabe may return for Japan after missing France clash

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