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  • USA Drives Toward World Cup Three-peat


    (ATR) The 18th Basketball World Cup tips off on Saturday with Angola and Serbia contesting the opener in Foshan, China.

    Kemba Walker drives to basket in an exhibition game. (Getty Images)
    The final will be in Beijing on Sept. 15. A total of 92 games will be played in five Chinese cities during the 16-day tournament. A record 32 countries are taking part, with seven qualifying spots for Tokyo 2020 on offer.

    Poland is back in the tournament for the first time in 52 years, while Montenegro and the Czech Republic will debut as independent countries.

    The United States is attempting to become the first country to win three straight titles, having won in Turkey in 2010 and Spain in 2014.

    It won’t be easy for Team USA, which is missing just about every one of its star players this time around. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving are all sitting this one out.

    Some are recovering from injury while others have decided to concentrate on preparing for the upcoming NBA season.

    Kemba Walker is the best remaining talent making the trip to China. He and forward Khris Middleton are the only current NBA All-Stars on head coach Gregg Popovich’s 12-man squad.

    Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs head coach, has replaced Mike Krzyzewski as USA boss.

    NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Greece (Getty Images)
    Australia defeated the United States 98-94 in Melbourne in an exhibition game last weekend, their first loss with NBA players in nearly 13 years.

    Despite a weakened side, bookmakers have the USA still favored to lift another trophy. Serbia, with Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, is considered the Americans’ biggest challenger. Greece, with reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, is also in the mix.

    The tournament will consist of three stages. During the first round, the 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four with each team in each group playing the other three teams once. The top two teams from each group advance to the second round, which has four groups of four teams with each team in each group playing the other three teams once.

    In a change from 2014, the results from the first two rounds will be combined to determine the top two teams in each of the second round groups. Those two teams advance to the final stage, which begins with the quarterfinals.

    The bottom two teams from each group of the first stage will play in the classification round, again in four groups of four.

    Seven teams will book their place at Tokyo 2020: the two best placed from Europe, two best from the Americas, and the best placed teams from Africa, Asia and Oceania.

    Japan, as the host country, has already qualified.

    The 16 next best classified teams at the World Cup will get the chance to earn one of the last four spots through Olympic qualifying tournaments to be held in early July just before the Summer Games begin.

    Written by Gerard Farek

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