US heads to Panama for next FIBA qualifying test

PANAMA CITY (AP) — The arena where the Americans will face Panama when qualifying for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup resumes is named for boxer Roberto Duran, which seems appropriate to U.S. coach Jeff Van Gundy. He is expecting a fight.

The U.S. (6-1) visits Panama (3-4) in a second-round qualifier on Monday night, knowing that a win would put the Americans on the brink of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in China. The Americans are coming off a 57-point romp over Uruguay on Friday in Las Vegas, which was followed by the 3,000-mile trip to Panama City.

“It’s hard to prepare guys for what the intensity is on the road in a FIBA game when you’re wearing USA across your chest,” Van Gundy said.

That might be particularly true on Monday, given that Panama will need to pull off an upset if it is going to maintain any realistic hopes of qualifying for China. The U.S. and Panama are part of the same six-team group in this stage of qualifying out of the Americas Region, and only three of those six teams will be assured of spots in China next year.

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Panama lost 82-73 at Puerto Rico on Friday.

“It’s going to be a tough game being on the road there in Panama,” U.S. forward Jameel Warney said. “I, personally, know how tough those road games are in other countries, so we just have to be ready. We have to go back and look at some film, get ready and improve from there.”

The U.S. is expected to use largely the same roster it had on Friday in Las Vegas.

For the first six games of qualifying, the Americans picked teams of mostly G League players. But because this window of games fell at an opportune time, before the start of training camps, the U.S. was able to pull some players who were in the NBA last season, such as Sacramento’s Frank Mason III, Charlotte’s Dwayne Bacon, San Antonio’s Derrick White and Detroit’s Henry Ellenson.

“Because we are relying on them, they can get their intensity right, they can get their game sharp so that when they go to training camp to fight for minutes, they’ll be in a good frame of mind,” Van Gundy said. “I think this helps us, certainly, but I think it helps the individual players as well.”

The U.S. has used 37 different players so far in the seven qualifying games. Should the Americans qualify for the World Cup, the expectation is that the roster would be filled with NBA stars.

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REACHING CHINA

There are now three teams that have qualified for next year’s 32-team World Cup that starts on Aug. 31. China, as the host, was the lone automatic qualifier. Nigeria and Tunisia claimed two of the five available spots out of the African Qualifiers with wins on Saturday.

Teams on the cusp of securing their spots for next year are Senegal, Australia, Iran, Lithuania, France and the Czech Republic. It’s conceivable that more than half of the spots in the field won’t be decided until the final window of second-round games in February — including the vast majority of the seven spots that will go to teams from the Americas Region.

VICTORY MARGIN

The 114-57 win by the U.S. over Uruguay was the fourth largest margin of victory so far in the qualifying tournament.

The three larger ones all came in first-round games: Tunisia beat Chad 101-40, and New Zealand beat Hong Kong by 59 points on two separate occasions — 133-74 and 124-65.

ROAD TRIP

Monday’s game is the first of three consecutive road matchups for the Americans. They’ll play in Argentina on Nov. 29 and in Uruguay on Dec. 2, before returning home to play Panama on Feb. 22 and Argentina in the qualifying finale on Feb. 25.

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