By David Hein
David against Goliath may be over-doing it a bit. But Slovenia are still clear favourites going into their quarter-final showdown with Germany Friday at the 2005 EuroBasket.
The Slovenians - playing in the final eight for the first time in their seventh straight trip to the continental championships - on paper look like they will have little problem with Germany. But Germany have one player no one can underestimate - Dirk Nowitzki.
"It's not a secret that Germany build their team around Dirk Nowitzki," Slovenian floor general Jaka Lakovic said. "It's impossible to stop him. He'll score his 25 points or more."
Nowitzki has actually scored a tournament-high 27.8 points per game while averaging a tourney-best 12.3 rebounds a night as well.
|Germany are hoping Marco Pesic will rediscover his shooting touch against Slovenia|
"It will be really tough, especially because of Dirk Nowitzki," Slovenia captian Rasho Nesterovic said. "He's really an outstanding player. You cannot stop him."
Goran Jurak is the man who will most likely be given the unwelcome challenge of guarding Dirk.
"If I'm in a position to defend Dirk it will be great challenge for me," he said. "I know I can't stop him by myself and that I'll need help."
But Slovenia will be hesitant to focus solely on Nowitzki.
"We have to make Dirk take a lot of tough shots. But we're also aware that Germany is not only Nowitzki," Lakovic added. "So we have to be careful the other guys don't score much."
Germany know they have a big task ahead of them. But they are confident.
"Individually they're strong, but they don't scare us," German coach Dirk Bauermann said. "They're the stronger team on paper, and yes they've matured since the last tournament (where they finished 10th).
"But the Slovenians are not impenetrable. I don't know about our chances in a seven-game series. But over 40 minutes, if we're fit and we believe in ourselves and play with a lot of passion and have Dirk Nowitzki - then anything is possible in 40 minutes."
One thing Germany are aware of is the danger of falling behind double digits to Slovenia like they did against Italy, Russia and Turkey.
"At the beginning (of games) we pass too much and don't shoot enough," Nowitzki said. "Maybe we're too anxious. But anybody who's open has to make their shots."
"Once we're down like that we play with a sense of urgency which we don't when we're not," Bauermann said. "But that's still very dangerous against Slovenia."
The coach knows he can rely on Nowitzki to get his points. But he doesn't know where the other help will come from.
"Dirk will bring the same performance as he did against Turkey (33 points and 10 rebounds). I assume that. But others will have to step up for us to win," Bauermann said.
He said he expects Patrick Femerling to help with 8 to 12 points from the center position. And he's expecting big things from Marco Pesic.
"(Pesic) understands what this is all about. He was able to expose some holes in the defense with drives in the Turkey game. And being a Serb, he'll have a great will to win," Bauermann said. "I really expect him to step it up. He doesn't define himself as a shooter. He can call upon various ways to beat you."
The coach said Pesic is bound to break out of his shooting slump: 1-for-11 from behind the three-point stripe.
"He just needs to make one and he'll be on track," Bauermann said of Pesic.
Even if the team is struggling offensively, Nowitzi said they have to keep fighting on the defense.
"We've been able to to stay in games even though not much has been working on offense. But we've pulled ourselves together, and we've been able to fight back," Nowitzki said.
David's chances weren't too high against Goliath. Who knows?