Phoenix Suns fans who have watched the FIBA World Championship rooting for both Suns players in the tournament must now pick a side.
After rolling through pool play and then smoking their round of 16 opponents, Goran “The Dragon” Dragic and Hedo “Ball” Turkoglu will meet up in quarterfinal action on Wednesday at 11 a.m. MST. The game can be seen live on NBA TV.
Both teams come into this one hot, steamrolling the competition on their way to a combined 11-1 mark in the tournament (and that one loss was to an undefeated Team USA squad that’s looking pretty good itself).
Slovenia routed Australia 87-58 in the round of 16 by jumping out to a 12-0 lead in the first six and a half minutes before the Aussies finally scored and then draining 16-of-33 long balls (they made and attempted more threes than twos) and allowing Australia to knock down just 2-of-19 long balls.
Turkey scorched the rims to the tune of 63.6 percent shooting (Hedo knocked down 6-of-10 himself) and cruised throughout in throttling France while their raucous crowd belted out songs of victory.
Turkey has gotten things done throughout this tournament with a vicious zone defense that has held opponents to around 60 points per game.
“Their zone has been very, very effective for them because they are big,” New Zealand coach Nenad Vucinic told FIBA.com. “I think the teams are too stationary against their zone, they have to move the ball and move the players a lot more, rather than try to position, because they cover from the three-point line to inside with the length they’ve got.”
The biggest advantage Turkey may have in this one is the 15,000 screaming spectators who can make the Rose Garden sound hushed. They have played a few close games but have had most games in check in the final moments thanks to some monster runs behind the home crowd, and they have obliterated weaker competition.
It’s hard for me to comprehend what this frenzied crowd will be like since it seems to be more rabid than any American arena, but you know Hedo and the Turks can sniff a medal at this point. Knowing what Turkoglu said a medal would mean to him in his last World Championship that just happens to be in front of his home crowd, you’ve got to give a major intangibles edge to Turkey.
At the same time, Slovenia is playing with house money. They have never gotten this far and nobody really expected them to get this far (except perhaps a few Suns fans with a man crush on The Dragon). You could say they have the mind-set of the Suns against the Lakers, which was, “We’ve come this far so why not get a little further, but no matter what this will be seen as a good season.”
At this point in the tournament largely heavyweights remain, so just by getting to the quarterfinals the Slovenians have done their country proud. But judging by the way they decimated Australia by 29 I don’t see them being just happy to be there.
“Its a fantastic feeling to have made to the quarterfinals of the worlds,” Dragic wrote on his Facebook page. “We have worked so hard to get here.”
Thus far in the tournament Goran has led Slovenia by averaging 12.5 points per game while also chipping in with 3.8 boards and 4.3 assists.
Turkoglu is putting up similar numbers by recording 11.5 points, 4.2 boards and a team-high 3.8 assists per game while shooting 36.4 percent on twos and 37.1 percent on threes. Not sure what to make of the Suns’ backup point guard and starting power forward averaging nearly identical lines at the World Championship, but that can’t exactly be a good thing.
I would anticipate most Suns fans siding with Slovenia in this one based on the underdog appeal and the fact that everybody loves THE DRAGON while some people are still a bit tentative in their support of Hedo and his fat contract.
Regardless this is a must-watch game for any Suns fan, as two key Phoenix rotation members will attempt to lead their team to the Final Four of the World Championship.