Nikola Jokic, Serbia primed for EuroBasket tournament: How and what to watch

Consider Nikola Jokic’s dual performances in Serbia’s World Cup qualifying matches the appetizer.

EuroBasket, which runs Sept. 1 through Sept. 18, is the main course. And because of Jokic, Serbia has legitimate designs on winning the prestigious continental tournament.

Last week, the Nuggets’ center outlasted Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Greek squad, 100-94 in overtime, to claim a pivotal victory as Serbia positions itself to qualify for the 2023 World Cup. On Sunday, Jokic led Serbia to a win over Turkey in the most recent qualifying window.

Throughout those two qualifying games, Jokic averaged 26.5 points on 65% shooting with nine rebounds per game. If you missed his turnaround Sombor shuffle over Antetokounmpo, go find it on YouTube. The difficulty of that shot is unmatched. Unlike when Jokic participated in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the reigning two-time MVP looked trim, spry and hungry. Might he have the potential for an unconscionable run of three consecutive MVPs? It’s not going to be The Denver Post that dismisses the possibility.

As a total outfit, Serbia looked dangerous.

But those two games served as the preamble to what will take place over the next two weeks throughout Europe. Serbia’s in Group D, where it will compete against the Netherlands, Finland, Poland, Czech Republic and Israel to get out of the group stages and onto the knockout rounds. After games against all five teams in Prague, the top four teams advance to the knockout stages in Berlin.

Assuming Serbia reaches that stage, expect a few representatives from the Nuggets to be in attendance. And if they’re not there in person, expect all members of the staff to be watching as Jokic squares off against two of the top-five players in the world.

There are 24 teams in the tournament, including Luka Doncic’s Slovenian team (Group B), Rudy Gobert’s French team (Group B) and Antetokounmpo’s Greek squad (Group C), which are viewed as the biggest threats. Slovenia beat Serbia in the 2017 finals, although Jokic didn’t play. Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar should play a significant role alongside Doncic for his native Slovenia.

Serbia will begin its quest on Sept. 2 against the Netherlands at 12:50 p.m. (MT). The remaining schedule is as follows: vs. Czech Republic on Sept. 3 (9:20 a.m.); vs. Finland on Sept. 5 (12:50 p.m.); vs. Israel on Sept. 6 (12:50 p.m.); vs. Poland on Sept. 8 (12:50 p.m.).

The Round of 16 knockout stage begins Sept. 10 in Berlin, followed by the quarterfinals (Sept. 13-14), semifinals (Sept. 16) and finals (Sept. 18). If Serbia makes it to the finals, Jokic will have about a week before Nuggets training camp opens in San Diego.

The games will all be available on ESPN+.

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