Nowitzki, Germany beat Japan; Argentina tops France
HIROSHIMA, Japan -- Germany outlasted determined Japan and its boisterous home crowd and Argentina topped France on Saturday as the FIBA world championships began in Japan.
Spain, Lebanon, Nigeria, Angola, Slovenia, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Australia were also winners as the tournament opened with pool play.
The United States wanted to make a statement as it opened the World Championships against Puerto Rico. However, it took the Americans most of the first half Saturday to get it going.
To read Chris Sheridan's analysis of the U.S. opener, click here.
Germany 81, Japan 70
Japan had the sellout crowd behind it. Germany had Dirk Nowitzki.
The 7-foot center had 27 points and 10 rebounds to lead Germany, negating the host's home-country advantage.
Nowitzki, who led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA finals this season, dominated inside and outside early, scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds as Germany took a 50-37 halftime lead. He had 15 points in the first quarter, including two 3-pointers.
"He's just a great player," Germany coach Dirk Bauermann said. "He is a coach's dream in that he will do anything you want. I told him that he would have to have a great start and be aggressive early and score for us to be successful. He is a true team player and we are very fortunate to have him."
Using its size advantage inside, Germany took its biggest lead of the game at 61-42 with 5:27 left in the third quarter, but Japan refused to fold, using a 10-1 run to get within 62-52 with 2:49 left in the period. Taking advantage of a dry spell from the field by Germany -- it didn't have a field goal over the final 5:27 of the third quarter -- Japan got as close as 64-56 on a driving dunk by Kosuke Takeuchi with 35 seconds left in the period.
Germany was finally able to start scoring again at the start of the fourth quarter and a 9-4 run made it 75-58, and Japan was never within 10 points the rest of the way.
Germany, the bronze medalists in the 2002 world championships, shot 63 percent from the field (19-for-30) in the first half and outrebounded Japan 22-9 over the first two quarters.
Kei Igarashi led Japan with 13 points, while Takehiko Orimo added 10. Kosuke Takeuchi finished with eight points and his brother Joji had two.
Germany plays New Zealand on Sunday, while Japan faces Angola.
Spain 86, New Zealand 70
Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jorge Garbajosa scored 16 points each to lead Spain past New Zealand.
The 7-foot-1 Gasol, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, took care of things on the inside for Spain, which finished fifth in the 2002 world championships. The 6-8 Garbajosa had four 3-pointers and Navarro, a guard, shook off a slow start by scoring seven points in the final 5½ minutes of the third quarter when Spain took a 68-48 lead.
This was the first of three games New Zealand will play without starting point guard Mark Dickel, who is serving a 10-day suspension from FIBA following a positive drug test last month.
A jumper by Casey Frank with 4:29 left in the third quarter had New Zealand within 55-46, but Spain closed the period with a 13-2 run, including the final 10 points.
Kirk Penney finished with 15 points for New Zealand while Craig Bradshaw had 12 and Paul Henare, who started in place of Dickel, added 11.
Angola 83, Panama 70
Carlos Almeida scored all but two of 22 points in the second half for Angola, which closed the third quarter with a 20-4 run.
Ruben Douglas led Panama, which was 12-for-24 from the free throw line, with 17 points.
Florent Pietrus had 15 points for a French team weakened by the absence of Parker. The Spurs guard broke his right index finger in a tuneup game against Brazil and will miss the tournament.
Ginobili gave Argentina a 67-57 lead on a layup with five minutes left and widened the margin to 70-60 with a 3-pointer a minute later. France drew to 73-66, but another 3-pointer by Ginobili with just under 40 seconds remaining sealed the win.
Argentina, runner up at the 2002 worlds, led 44-33 at halftime before France narrowed the gap to 56-50 entering the final period.
Lebanon 82, Venezuela 72
Fadi El Khatib scored 35 points and Joseph Vogel added 26 for Lebanon, which lost all five games and finished last in the 2002 world championships.
Tomas Aguilera led Venezuela, which was 6-for-27 from 3-point range, with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Nigeria 82, Serbia & Montenegro 75
Ime Udoka scored 18 points and Josh Akognon hit a 3-pointer that gave Nigeria a 74-66 lead with three minutes to play in the upset of the defending champions.
Igor Rackocevic had 20 points for Serbia-Montenegro, which won the world title in 2002 competing as Yugoslavia.
Australia 83, Brazil 77
Mark Worthington scored 23 points for Australia, which trailed 62-61 before closing with a 22-point fourth quarter.
Leandro Barbosa led Brazil with 18 points.
Greece 84, Qatar 64
Dimos Ntikoudis scored 26 points for Greece, which trailed 18-7 after the first quarter but rallied to take a 38-31 halftime lead.
Turki Ali scored 17 points for Qatar, which is making its first appearance in the world championships.
Turkey 76, Lithuania 74
Ender Arslan made two free throws with 17 seconds left to give Turkey a 76-74 lead and Giedrius Gustas of Lithuania missed a possible tying jumper at the buzzer.
Ibrahim Kutulay had 16 points to lead four Turkey players in double figures. Arvydas Macijauskas scored half his 24 points on 3-pointers for Lithuania, which finished with a 40-24 rebound advantage.
Italy 84, China 69
Gianluca Basile scored 27 points for Italy, which made 13 3-pointers, eight in the second half.
Yao Ming, seeing his first significant action since surgery for a broken foot in April, had 30 points on 12-for-17 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds for China.
Slovenia 96, Senegal 79
Bostjan Nachbar scored 17 points for Slovenia in its first appearance in the world championships. Slovenia, which was part of the former Yugoslavia until 1991, led 32-15 after the first quarter.
Jules Aw scored 18 points for Senegal.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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