Sports

It’s Luka vs Giannis, with a spot in the Paris Olympics on the line

Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo have faced off nine times in their NBA careers, and those games have never disappointed.

They go head-to-head again Saturday — but like never before.

Doncic and Slovenia will play Antetokounmpo and Greece in one of the eight semifinal games of the Olympic qualifying tournaments that are taking place to determine the last four berths in the men’s basketball field for the Paris Games. The game in Piraeus, Greece, is the first time the two megastars will face one another while representing their senior national teams.

“We’re looking forward to this,” Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulic said.

The last time Doncic and Antetokounmpo played head-to-head was Feb. 3, when Antetokounmpo scored 48 points for Milwaukee, Doncic finished with 40 for Dallas, and the Bucks prevailed 129-117.

It was the seventh consecutive time in a Luka vs. Giannis matchup that both played and finished with at least 27 points. Antetokounmpo has scored at least 28 in all nine of his outings against Dallas when Doncic plays.

“Both teams have the same goal,” Sekulic said. “Of course, the home team is the favorite. But I think we can also go into this game knowing we have chances to win. As I always say, you’ve got to show it on the court.”

The game is also a chance for Doncic to play against a team coached by one of his heroes. He has called Greece coach Vasilis Spanoulis one of his idols; Doncic wears jersey No. 77 now because Spanoulis wore No. 7 as a player.

“He just showed a lot of players how to play basketball,” Doncic said.

The winner of the Greece-Slovenia game takes on either Croatia or the Dominican Republic in Sunday’s tournament final, with the Paris Olympics berth going to the winner.

A look at the other semifinal matchups, broken down by site:

The matchups: Latvia vs. Cameroon, Brazil vs. Philippines.

Outlook: All six teams in the Latvia qualifier went 1-1 in group play. Montenegro and Georgia were eliminated before the semifinals because of the point differential tiebreaker. Brazil last made the Olympics in 2016, the Philippines last made it in 1972, Latvia’s last appearance was 1936, and Cameroon has never reached the Olympic stage in men’s basketball.

Quotable: “We’re very process-driven. You know, we want to just stay on what’s right in front of us. We don’t want to look at the end game and think, ‘Wow, what happens if we can make it to Paris?’ Obviously, the country would go bonkers. They would go absolutely crazy. But you know, that’s a long way away.” — Philippines coach Tim Cone.

The matchups: Spain vs. Finland, Bahamas vs. Lebanon.

Outlook: Spain and Bahamas went 2-0 in group play and would seem favored to advance to Sunday. Spain is seeking a seventh consecutive Olympic berth. Finland hasn’t gotten there since 1964, while Lebanon and the Bahamas have never qualified. But the Bahamas — with NBA players Deandre Ayton, Buddy Hield and Eric Gordon leading the way — has easily its best shot.

Quotable: “The chance to play in an Olympics would be a dream come true.” — Hield.

The matchups: Puerto Rico vs. Mexico, Italy vs. Lithuania.

Outlook: These four nations have a combined 34 past Olympic appearances, and this one might be the most unpredictable bracket left. Puerto Rico hasn’t qualified since 2004 and the home-court edge could be the deciding factor; seven of its last eight games with Mexico have been decided by 10 points or less. Italy and Lithuania haven’t met at the senior national level since 2019.

Quotable: “We’ve had a rivalry for a lot of years and we have to know this team of Mexico maybe doesn’t have the big names, but they have warriors.” — Puerto Rico coach Nelson Colon.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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