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World Cup Notebook: Luka-Less Slovenia Learns From USA Defeat

A look at the latest on Mavs superstar Luka Doncic as he gears up to compete with the Slovenian national team in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

To complete a back-to-back sequence of exhibition games in Malaga, Spain, the Slovenian national team had to face off against Team USA without Luka Doncic, who was held out due to precautionary reasons despite wanting to play.

When Slovenia did have Doncic against Spain on Friday, his performance ended early after suffering what was described as an "unfavorable blow" in the second quarter. The Dallas Mavericks superstar finished with 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists. He will undergo an MRI when the team arrives back to their country, per the team's official website.

Doncic was held out for precautionary reasons, given it's still just exhibition play. In that game, Slovenia had a 23-10 lead before Doncic first subbed out, then quickly gave away a run to Spain. An inability to execute without Doncic became a theme as Spain went on to win handily, 99-79.

Attempting to execute without Doncic proved too difficult for Slovenia as the team was defeated 92-62 by their American opponents. Doncic has averaged 22.5 points, 8.5 assists and 7.5 rebounds in his four exhibition performances, creating a major void when he's unavailable to play. 

"Given that Luka Doncic was not available to play, for whom the medical service of the national team thought it was better for him to miss this game, even though the player himself wanted to play, other basketball players got more opportunities and took advantage of them," Slovenian national team coach Aleksander Sekulic said

"Still, we had very good segments of the game, as well as deep drops in the game," Sekulic explained. "We have to limit them, because today we saw what damage they can do to us if there is such an athletic and talented team on the other side."

At times, it was clear that Team USA's length and athleticism posed problems for Slovenia's offense. Without Doncic in the lineup to set the tone, it was all the more challenging to achieve consistent results. Going forward, there is a sense that game film can be utilized to address areas of need before competition against Group F begins in Okinawa, Japan. 

"At times we managed to do this, but unfortunately, many times, we lacked composure, which the rival was able to take advantage of and made the difference, especially in the paint," Sekulic said. "We fought, we did our best, but the fact is, that we were without Luka Doncic, which, of course, was known.

"We have to extract as much as possible from each defeat, analyze the match and try to correct mistakes."

A particular area that was highlighted as needing improvement for Slovenia was transition defense. In general, the team has struggled to consistently string together stops, whether in the open floor, or in the half-court. Before getting the opposition's best in games that count, it must be addressed. 

"We focused on the segments of the game that caused us the most problems, this is definitely transition defense, which at times, went quite well for us," Sekulic said. "We still had too many fluctuations in the game."

A consistent theme for Slovenia will be trying to find ways to succeed when Doncic isn't on the court. They have played two full games without him, both of which were losses. The team has given up runs often in games after Doncic has gone to the bench in the games that he's played. Without Vlatko Cancar or  

Slovenia concluded its exhibition schedule in Malaga and will return to their native country while having Sunday off. The team will practice once more before departing for Tokyo on Tuesday, which features a matchup against Japan on Saturday, Aug. 19, in a final exhibition game before taking on Venezuela in the start of Group play. 

Grant Afseth is a Dallas Mavericks reporter for and an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth).

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