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World Cup 2023: It’s a duel of the giants as Luka Dončić and Slovenia meet Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Canada in the quarterfinals

The two best players of the tournament clash Wednesday when Slovenia play Canada in the quarterfinal knockout game

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

World Cup Quarterfinal: Slovenia-Canada, in Manila, The Philippines, Wednesday 6th of September, 14.30 Europe, 7.30 am CT

Wednesday, Slovenia will face one of the best teams in the World Cup, as the tournament really gets going with the start of the knockout phase and quarterfinals.

We are now down to only eight teams: it’s the top eight teams in the world and six of them are European. Two of the favorites are not, however - Canada and the USA have played consistently great basketball and remain favorites.

Slovenia will face a Canadian team, which is high-performing, connected and has seven NBA players, among them Maverick center Dwight Powell. To add to that, they also have the only other legitimate star in this tournament besides Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The two NBA stars are the highest performers of the World Cup this year, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averaging 23.8 points a game and Luka Doncic 26.6. Both can take over a game when needed and both are incredibly talented on the offensive end.

Canada has been playing very well as a whole through the tournament, securing big wins over France, Latvia and Lebanon in the First Round. Surprisingly, they went on to lose against Brazil, but then beat the reigning champions from Spain, knocking them out of the tournament in the Second Round.

They enter the knockout stage on a high note after that win, where they showed great play and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put on a show with 30 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists.

Slovenia is another story. After a thrilling and dominating win over Australia, where they secured a spot in the quarterfinals, the team went on to lead a half-hearted effort against Germany Sunday. Here, they lost 100-71 to what looked like a better team, and Germany showed that they’re serious contenders.

Slovenia did not. They collapsed in the second quarter after what might have been an injury to Luka Doncic’s thigh or hip. He kept playing, however, which left him making bad decisions and choosing the easier options, often resulting in a step back three. This left the whole offense stagnant and without energy, which bled into the defense. (This may sound familiar to Maverick fans). The vibes from the big Australia win were down (or out?) and the chemistry had evaporated.

This Slovenia team, which managed to outplay Australia when Luka had to sit early because of foul trouble, would probably have been able to hold down the fort and maybe even get some stops and transition play if Luka had rested when injured. But he didn’t, for reasons I’m not privy to, and that affected the rest of the game.

Luka Doncic talked about how much he trusts this team right after the Australia win, and maybe it’s time to put it to the test. Step away if you’re injured, get treatment and trust your teammates.

For Slovenia to win this game, we have to see them play more like they did against Australia and less like they did against Germany. Obviously, you may be thinking, but it’s really that simple. High energy, control the pace, stop SGA (instead of Josh Giddey), aggressive defense. Trust your teammates, don’t let the referees affect your behavior and how you play.

Can they do it? Absolutely, we just saw it against Australia. And to add to the positives, Luka and this team play best when expectations are low, when they’re underdogs and no one believes in them but themselves. And on the big stage, we know that Luka delivers every single time (when healthy).

So in some respects, going into this all-or-nothing quarterfinal game, the setup couldn’t be better for Slovenia.

Except it could. Momentum, vibes, chemistry and connection matter in basketball, especially in this type of knockout game. And a lot of work has to be done to save those lukewarm vibes and the shabby connectedness from the previous game.

Everything has to work together perfectly for Slovenia to pull this off. It’s not impossible, we just saw it happen. But it’s going to require everyone to be locked in, some shooting luck and a lot of vibe restoration.

Find more information about the World Cup here.