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USA Basketball looks to move closer to World Cup with next round of qualifying

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 17: Basketball color commentator Jeff Van Gundy walks on the court before the championship game of the 2017 Summer League between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 17, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Los Angeles won 110-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — The spot that USA Basketball hopes to have in next year’s FIBA World Cup cannot be clinched nor lost on Friday, when the Americans play host to Uruguay to begin the second round of qualifying.

This much is certain: The road to China gets a whole lot smoother with a win.

Should the Americans beat Uruguay in Las Vegas on Friday night, they would be assured of having a two-game lead over the fourth-place team in Group E with five games left in qualifying. And that’s all that matters - to be guaranteed of reaching the World Cup, the U.S. needs only to finish in the top three of the group standings.

USA Basketball is being represented by a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy through the qualifying process. FIBA changed its World Cup qualifying process this time around, placing most of the qualifying games in windows during in the middle of the NBA season, as well as other major leagues around the world. That, in practice, banned most country’s best players from competing. A few are taking part in this window, which is before NBA training camps open.

If — almost certainly when, but still officially “if” — the USA reaches next summer’s World Cup, USA Basketball will send a team of NBA stars selected from this summer’s mini-camp. That World Cup is also the primary qualifier for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.