(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel opens its EuroBasket campaign against Germany in Siauliai, Lithuania on
Wednesday night, but it already finds itself in a must-win
With games against France, Serbia, Latvia and Italy coming up,
and only the top three teams from Group B to advance to the next round, the
blueand- white knows its hopes of reaching the last 12 of the European
Championships will be as good as over if it fails to overcome the
With NBA finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki and Los Angeles Clippers
center Chris Kaman the stars of an also otherwise strong German roster, Israel
will have to be at its very best right from the tipoff of the
Nevertheless, forward Lior Eliyahu, who has an especially
crucial role to play in the absence of the injured Omri Casspi, is confident
Israel has what it takes to get its campaign off to a winning start.
believe we can beat the Germans, even if Nowitzki has a great game,” Eliyahu
said. “Clearly he is their key player, but they have plenty of other good
players. We will also need to stop them and play some good team
“We are feeling good after our preparation games and there is
always a good mood around the roster, especially when we are
Israel’s preparations for its 10th straight European
Championships got off to the worst possible start after it fell in five of its
first eight tune-up games and lost its only NBA player in Casspi to a knee
However, last week’s 89-79 win over the strong Russians has given
the side renewed confidence that it can make some noise in Lithuania and at the
very least improve on the whitewash it experienced at the last championships
when it ended the tournament with a 0-3 record, the first time it has finished
the event without a victory in 25 appearances.
“We have shown consistent
improvement throughout the preparation period and I certainly feel that we have
made progress,” said coach Arik Shivek, who will be guiding the team in a major
tournament for the first time.
“We know the challenges we are facing but
we believe we can handle them.”
Nowitzki only joined the Germans in
training less than two weeks ago, but the Dallas Mavericks forward has quickly
settled and has helped the side to some impressive victories in warm-up
“I’m feeling good after taking a short break,” said Nowitzki, who
averaged 27.7 points and 8.1 rebounds over 21 NBA playoff games, which ended
with the Mavericks being crowned champions.
“It is going to be tough for
us to advance to the next round because there are a lot of good teams in this
group. Every night will be difficult.”
The 33-year-old 10-time All-Star
has no intention of underestimating Israel.
“Israel has a group of good
players who can all score,” he said. “They are tough and play a quick and fun
style of basketball. They are very dangerous and it is important for us to get
the tournament off to a good start. We haven’t played that much together, but we
hope to find a way to win.”
Apart from Nowitzki and Kaman, the entire
German roster plays in the local league, but coach Dirk Bauermann knows he will
need more than two players to contribute if his team is to succeed in
“Nowitzki is an excellent player but this is a team sport not
golf,” Bauermann said.
“The fact that we have Nowitzki and Kaman has
resulted in unrealistic expectations, but we do feel that we have real chance to
finish in the top six in the tournament, which secures an Olympic qualifying
berth in next year’s playoffs”.
Bauermann has identified Israel’s
three-point scoring as the key to the outcome of Wednesday’s game.
though I think Casspi is an excellent player, I believe Israel is a very
difficult opponent, especially in the first game of the tournament,” he
“Israel’s advantage is its scoring, with Yotam Halperin and Guy
Pnini superb shooters. Lior Eliyahu is also an interesting and intelligent
player, but if I have to point to one part of their game I would like to stop
than this would be their three-point scoring.”
Halperin realizes that he
is one of the players on Bauermann’s radar, but he believes that both he and
Israel can compete with the very best.
“We will be the underdogs in every
game, apart from maybe the encounter with Latvia,” he said. “But if we remain
focused in every game, this tournament could end up being remembered as
something great.”On TV: EuroBasket 2011: Israel vs Germany (live on
Channel 1 at 8:45 p.m.); Serbia vs Italy (live on Sport 2 at 3:05 p.m.); France
vs Latvia (live on Sport 2 at 5:35 p.m.)