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Bertans: We're looking forward to getting another shot at Czechs at Belgrade OQT
BILBAO (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) - Latvia are looking forward to facing Czech Republic at the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade after the teams split two games at EuroBasket 2015.
Latvia have been drawn in Group B of the OQT in Serbia's capital along with the Czechs and Japan, with the hosts Serbs, Angola and Puerto Rico making up Group A. The winner of the six-team tournament will qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
"It's going be tough for sure. The Czech team is really good," said Latvia's veteran guard Dairis Bertans. "We beat them once but we also lost to them by almost 30 points. So we're looking forward to playing against them and beat them."
The Latvians know the Czechs well having beating them 72-65 in the group stage at last year's EuroBasket, in front of their home fans in Riga.
However, when the two teams met again 11 days later in Lille, France, it was a different story altogether with the Czechs prevailing 97-70 in the tournament's seventh-place game.
The result in the second match-up was especially painful for Latvia because it originally meant they would miss out on the OQTs as only the top seven finishers at EuroBasket 2015 booked places for the tournaments that will determine the final three teams competing at Rio 2016.
But Latvia were awarded a wild card spot for the OQTs and drawn into Belgrade's Group B.
"The group could be tougher, it could be easier as well. But we are going to try and do everything we can to do as well as possible," said Bertans, who plays for Dominion Bilbao Basket.
The goal for the Latvians of course is to win the Final of the Belgrade OQT on July 9 and see the country return to the Olympics for the first time since 1936.
That’s a huge dream. Lately we’ve been playing EuroBaskets and that’s a great competition. But now since the draw we can dream about achieving the goal of playing at the Olympics. That would be amazing - maybe something once in a lifetime. - Bertans
And Bertans seemed clear on who he thinks Latvia must beat in order to reach the Rio Games - host side Serbia.
For me, it looks like if we want to go to the Olympics we’ll have to beat Serbia for sure. If not, it’s impossible. They will probably win the other group, and they’re the biggest favourites to win the group. - Bertans
Despite finishing eighth at EuroBasket 2015 - the country's best result since 2001 - Bertans knows Latvia have a chance to be much better in Belgrade if both his brother Davis Bertans and NBA rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis play for the national team this summer.
Let’s dream a little bit about Porzingis that he might join us if everything is okay. He would be a huge help for us, especially under the basket. We were kind of struggling with the big guys. And he’s shown in the NBA that he can block shots. That’s what we need. - Bertans
Dairis' younger brother Davis missed the first part of the season with Laboral Kuxta but has played well since starting his 2015-16 campaign in late January.
"My brother opens the court a lot because defenses cannot leave him open and it gives space to us small guys to penetrate," Bertans said of his 23-year-old brother, whose last major championship was EuroBasket 2011, though he played in qualifying for EuroBasket 2013.
"If everybody is healthy, and everybody is playing, we can be pretty dangerous," summed up Bertans.