Wed, Aug 29, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Nowitzki rebounds to lead Germany

AFP , BERLIN

Germany's Dirk Nowitzki, right, dribbles around Italy's Denis Marconato during their Basketball Supercup match at the Jako Arena in Bamberg, Germany, on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Dirk Nowitzki, the best basketball player Germany has ever produced, has put his NBA playoffs nightmare behind him and is ready to spearhead his country's challenge in next month's European championships.

Nowitzki was named last season's NBA MVP -- the first European ever to win the award -- but was powerless to prevent his Dallas Mavericks from crashing out to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

The 2.13m German admitted the 4-2 slump to Golden State took the shine off his history-making individual achievement.

When it came to the crunch, his 19.7 points a game in the playoffs just could not save the misfiring Mavs and questions were raised over his leadership qualities.

"The playoffs defeat affected me deeply because I was just unable to prevent what happened," Nowitzki said in a recent interview with Germany's ZDF television.

"The only positive side was that it gave me a longer holiday than normal," he said. "I took two months off and just cut myself off from basketball, which did me a lot of good."

"I began conditioning training about a month ago," he said. "The result is that I am stronger and fitter than at this time last season."

Nowitzki arrived at last year's world championships in Japan under-prepared and, with their undisputed team leader misfiring, Germany could only finish eighth.

This year in contrast he has looked refreshed and sharp in warm-up games, with his perimeter shot as extraordinarily accurate as ever for such a big man.

Nowitzki looked ready for the Euros as he contributed 17 points to help Germany edge Russia 66-65 in Bamberg, Germany, on Saturday, and scored 18 points in the 69-60 loss to Italy 24 hours later.

Two years ago, Nowitzki led Germany to a surprise European silver medal in Belgrade and was named the tournament's MVP.

He believes Germany can repeat that feat this year.

"We have a strong team," he said. "We showed that in 2005. Spain will be the favorites as the world champions, but otherwise it's wide open."

The 29-year-old said he was excited at the thought of qualifying for next year's Beijing Olympics at the Europeans, especially as it could be his last chance to take part in sport's greatest event.

The man who has amassed million of dollars and become one of the Europeans who has changed the face of the NBA said he was looking forward to being just another competitor at the Beijing Olympics.

"I think that mixing with other athletes from other sports at an Olympics is something every athlete dreams about," Nowitzki said.

In Spain, he will get scoring help from Ademola Okulaja, who had 18 points against Russia, but without the Dallas roster around him, expectations will as always fall squarely on Nowitzski's shoulders.

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