Luka Doncic, Slovenia keep Olympic hopes alive, set up showdown vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece


Luka Doncic just led the Dallas Mavericks on a surprise run to the NBA Finals, but now, he’s going to have to work even harder to get his native Slovenia into the Olympics. Slovenia did not earn a ticket to the Olympics during last summer’s FIBA World Cup, so it has to win admission through an Olympic Qualifying Tournament. 

Slovenia’s hopes took a major hit in the team’s very first game, a loss to Croatia. That defeat didn’t just put Slovenia in a “win-or-go-home” situation, but rather, a “blow-out-or-go-home” situation. As the tiebreaker in the group stage of Olympic qualifiers is point-differential, Slovenia needed to beat New Zealand by at least 10 points to advance to the semifinals. They did just that with a 104-78 win on Thursday. Doncic led the way with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Eight teams have already earned Olympic bids. France, as the host country, got in automatically. Canada, Australia, South Sudan, Japan, Serbia, Germany and Team USA won their way into the bracket. That left four slots available for the 12-team field. The Olympic Qualifying tournaments are used to award those spots to four out of 24 possible teams. Those 24 teams are divided into six different tournaments, each further divided into two groups of three. The top two teams in each group advance and play single-elimination from there, with the last team standing reaching the Olympics.

Notably, the two biggest stars playing this week are in the same qualifying tournament. Thanks to Greece’s win against Egypt on Thursday, Doncic will face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Greeks in the semifinals on Saturday. One will go home from there. The other will likely face Croatia, who has already beaten Slovenia, for a chance to go to the Olympics.

Slovenia played very well at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, finishing in fourth place after a Bronze Medal Game loss to Australia. Doncic obviously led that team. Doncic was by far the most well-known player on that team, with players like former Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar and former Miami Heat guard Zoran Dragic fighting for a distant second place. The Olympics themselves are still a few weeks away, but some of the best players in the world are already competing for a chance to get there.

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