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THE BOOMERS QUALIFIED for the second round of the FIBA World Cup after an easy victory over host Japan, 109-89, earlier this week. Now they face the man many predict will soon be the best player in the world, if he is not already: Luka Dončić.

The Boomers famously defeated Slovenia 107-93 to claim their first-ever bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, thanks in large part to Patty Mills’ 42-point, nine-assist explosion. It could take a similar eruption from Mills, or someone else to overcome Luka, who has been on a tear so far in this tournament. The 24-year-old had a 37-point outing against Venezuela, followed by a 34-point, 10-assist, 6-rebound game against Georgia. He took it relatively easy against Cape Verde, with 19 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, as Slovenia made it three-for-three in group play.

Slovenia will be seeking to avenge their loss to the Boomers two years ago. Luka is even better than he was back then, and unlike other summers where he’s returned to training camp in Dallas looking like he enjoyed himself a little too much in the off-season, currently looks in killer shape.

It would be asking a lot of Mills to repeat his pyrotechnics from the bronze-medal game, but the Boomers do have some additional fire power of their own in Josh Giddey, who had his best game in national colours against Japan, pouring in 26 points and 11 assists. Is he ready to go head to head with Luka? We’re about to find out.

Certainly, Giddey isn’t the scoring savant that Luka is. The Slovenian has an uncanny ability to put defenders on their heels with a kitbag full of feints, shimmies, and deft nudges. But Giddey can just about match him in terms of passing vision and the ability to find teammates for open looks.

You’d have to say, it would be nice to have Ben Simmons circa 2020 in the line-up. Simmons has previously troubled the Dallas Mavericks’ forward with his length and athleticism. In Simmons’ absence, the Aussies could turn to defensive ace, Matisse Thybulle, to make Luka work. Or they could let the Slovenian get his 30-40 points, while shutting down everyone else. It’s a risky strategy; the rest of the team, while certainly role players, are no mugs.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Giddey told reporters of the matchup against Dončić. “Obviously a lot of people are here to see him. He carries a heavy load for Slovenia, so a lot of our game plan is gonna revolve around him. We’ve had the opportunity to play against these teams where they have a superstar or an NBA player, so Luka is obviously on a different level, but we’ve got Josh Green, Matisse [Thybulle]—those types of guys—for that job. We’ll be ready for it.”

A win for the Boomers will be a big step toward securing a knockout quarterfinal appearance. Here’s a look at the Boomers’ path to the next stage.

Who is in the Boomers’ group in the second round?

The unique FIBA format for the tournament features two group stages, with the Boomers booking one of four spots in Group K, comprised of Slovenia, Germany, who narrowly defeated the Boomers in round one, and Georgia. Results from the first round carry over and the top two teams of each first round group are placed in the same group in the second stage, but do not play each other again. The Boomers second match in this stage would therefore be against Georgia, who they would be favoured to beat. But a loss against Slovenia would be fatal as the Boomers could then be sent home on tie break against both Germany and Slovenia if they were to finish equal on wins with either of them. Basically, the Boomers have to win both second-stage games.

Who might the Boomers play if they make the quarterfinals?

Should the Boomers get through they would face an opponent from Group L, which features defending champions Spain, Canada, Latvia, and Brazil. The likelihood would be Spain and Canada will emerge from that group, so the Boomers would face one of those two. Win that and they could face Team USA in a semi-final but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Is Team USA on track to win the FIBA World Cup?

Yes, the USA has been in imperious form in the tournament so far, finishing 3-0 and top of Group C, with a series of blowouts. Most of their stars have been playing just 20 minutes a game, sharing minutes and points around, reminiscent of the early Dream Teams. This is no dream team but they are a nightmare match-up for any team in this tournament, with their ability to clamp down on defence and go on runs that can quickly put games out of reach. Minnesota Timberwolves’ star Anthony Edwards has been the stand-out player so far, leading the team in scoring and registering 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists in less than 19 minutes of play against Jordan in their final first-round match. If he was allowed to play more minutes he might have threatened the USA’s FIBA scoring record of 38 points, held by Kevin Durant.

When do the Boomers play Slovenia?

Friday Sept 1 at 10.10pm on ESPN/Kayo Sports.


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