Yuta Watanabe could be back on the floor for Japan's upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup warm-up game against Slovenia, head coach Tom Hovasse said Wednesday, on the eve of his team's meeting with powerhouse France.

The 28-year-old Phoenix Suns swingman, World Cup co-host Japan's sole NBA player in the absence of Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura, hurt his right ankle in the second quarter of Tuesday's 75-65 come-from-behind win over Angola at Ariake Arena.

NBA player Yuta Watanabe (R), nursing a sprained ankle, watches his Japan national teammates practice at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on Aug. 16, 2023, a day before their men's basketball World Cup warm-up game against France. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

According to Hovasse, MRI scans revealed Watanabe had not suffered serious damage and he may return to action Saturday against Slovenia, in the last of Japan's three SoftBank Cup exhibition games in Tokyo, after sitting out Thursday's clash with reigning Olympic silver medalist France.

"It depends on his progress," Hovasse said. "(He's) a little sore today, but he's OK. He had an MRI and it was fine."

The American coach said Akatsuki Japan performed more credibly on the boards against Angola than in its previous international friendly, a 94-75 loss on Aug. 4 to a New Zealand side that dominated the rebounding battle.

"The rebounding was much better," Hovasse said. "We were turning them over, we got to the free-throw line a lot, so there's some positives there."

Hovasse said he planned to ramp up the court time for frontcourt player Josh Hawkinson, whose minutes have been restricted while returning from a hip injury, in the remaining warm-up games in Tokyo.

The 208-centimeter Sunrockers Shibuya center-forward said he "felt good" after playing with a 15-minute limit against Angola and was looking forward to further developing his chemistry with Watanabe.

"I think having us at the 4 and 5 is kind of a dangerous combination, in terms of us being able to play outside and inside, drive and move," Hawkinson said. "But in order for us to succeed, we need to keep working on (communication)."

The U.S.-born stretch big said he looked forward to battling a deep and talented French side, anchored by Minnesota Timberwolves center and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, ahead of world No. 36 Japan's World Cup Group E games against No. 11 Germany, No. 24 Finland and No. 3 Australia in Okinawa.

"We want to work on our own things in order to prepare for Germany, Australia and Finland in the actual World Cup Games, but obviously we want to put on a good performance for the fans and win against France," Hawkinson said. "It's going to be a really big learning opportunity for us, going against that physicality."

Japan tips off its World Cup campaign against Germany at Okinawa Arena on Aug. 25.

Japan's Yuki Kawamura (C) dribbles against Angola in their Basketball World Cup warm-up game at Tokyo's Ariake Arena on Aug. 15, 2023. (Kyodo)

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