Editor's note: Dozens of NBA players, from stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker to role players like Nenad Krstic and Darko Milicic, are participating in the European Championships in Serbia & Montenegro this week. Simon Wilkinson is covering the action for The Press Association in Europe and has agreed to hook us up with daily dispatches. Here is the first of his reports.
NOVI SAD, Serbia & Montenegro -- The home team is loaded with talent. No fewer than six players on Serbia & Montenegro have NBA experience. That's why Friday's 89-70 loss to Spain was probably the most humiliating in the nation's basketball history.
But after being booed off the floor by their own fans 24 hours earlier, the players bounced back and showed they could play as a team rather than a bunch of individuals, beating Israel 93-77 on Saturday.
The win came thanks to a 20-0 run in the fourth quarter that was led by Minnesota Timberwolves guard Marko Jaric, New Jersey Nets center Nenad Krstic and Novi Sad native Darko Milicic, the notorious Detroit Pistons reserve. During the fourth quarter, Serbia & Montenegro was rewarded by the sellout crowd with a standing ovation that lasted about five minutes.
Jaric made amends for a dismal, scoreless performance against Spain on Friday night by leading the way against Israel with 19 points.
Former Timberwolves guard Igor Rakocevic added 15 points and 6 assists and was instrumental in the win as he started in place of captain Dejan Bodiroga, who is too tall and too slow to play in the backcourt.
The backcourt of Jaric and Rakocevic is a dangerous one when it works well as it did on Saturday.
Rakocevic showed in the first two games so far that maybe he should still be in the NBA. He could return to Minnesota to play with Jaric, perhaps replacing Fred Hoiberg, who is recovering from heart surgery.
But the surprise of the night was Milicic. As in the first game, he did not play in the first half.
After checking in during the third quarter, he stayed on for the rest of the half and provided at both ends of the court, finishing with 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. With a soft jumper from the left baseline, Darko, the local kid, capped the run that took the game from 67-67 to 87-67 for Serbia & Montenegro.
The other NBA players contributed to the win as well. Los Angeles Clippers center Zeljko Rebraca got the ball down low a few times and worked over his defenders. Seattle SuperSonics forward Vladimir Radmanovic provided some much-needed offense in the first half and did most of it on drives to the basket, including a nice in-your-face dunk that brought the fans to their feet.
Group D's other game between Spain and Latvia proved to be a thrilling one.
It's a shame not many people other than Spain's small fan base and Latvia's slightly bigger contingent were there to see it.
It's been that way on both days though ... the arena, which has a capacity of about 10,000, gets full only when Serbia & Montenegro plays.
The game went into overtime and finished with Spain on top 114-109. Spain got off to a quick start thanks to center Jorge Garbajosa (sporting a mask to protect his broken nose) and Juan Carlos Navarro, who showed that his 27-point performance against Serbia & Montenegro was no fluke when he went for 35 against Latvia.
Garbajosa finished with 31 of his own, but both players did much of their scoring from the charity stripe as Latvia fouled early and often -- 39 fouls in all, leading to 63 free-throw attempts.
Navarro went 22-for-24 from the foul line and Garbajosa was perfect on 14-of-14.
Future Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon had 15 points for Spain. But his most important contribution was to hit several key jumpers to end Latvia's several runs.
In the group standings, Spain remains unbeaten, Serbia & Montenegro holds second place over Israel on points differential over the first two games and Latvia is winless.
In the day's other games:
GROUP A, VRSAC
Russia hammered Italy 87-61 to remain the only team unbeaten in that group. Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko led a balance offense with 16 points and 10 rebounds. His teammate, Portland Trail Blazers forward Viktor Khryapa, also had a double double, with 15 points and 10 boards.
Khryapa is playing well for Russia and should definitely benefit from Shareef Abdur-Rahim's departure to get solid minutes at both forward positions in Portland next season.
Dirk had 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting (including 6-of-13 from downtown). He was only one of two players in double figures for Germany, which shows how heavily they rely on him.
Los Angeles Lakers big man Stanislav Medvedenko led the way for Ukraine, with 15 points. He did what he's been doing for the Lakers, hitting 20-foot shots ... which over here qualify as 3-pointers. He was 6-of-12 from downtown but made no shots from inside the arc.
GROUP B, PODGORICA
Turkey made hard work of beating an unimpressive Bulgarian side.
Mirsad Turkcan -- who was drafted by the New York Knicks some years ago -- led a balanced offense with 19 points.
Lithuania made little work of Croatia, in a 85-67 win in the group's other game.
The Lithuanian team is a list of nobodies to me, I have to admit. But here they are, without arguably their best player, Sarunas Jasikevicius, who signed with the Indiana Pacers, and they're 2-0 in their group. It just shows it's not all about the names, but about team chemistry ... some teams should take the hint.
GROUP C, BELGRADE
France bounced back from an embarrassing loss to Greece with a 79-62 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina.
But instead it was their other two NBA players who provided the offense.
More impressive, though, was the 23-point display by Phoenix Suns guard Boris Diaw, who has often seemed reluctant to look for the basket. In addition, he showed his usual all-around game by adding seven assists and seven rebounds, with the only glitch being his 4-for-10 shooting at the free-throw line. Seems the Nick Anderson free-throw-shooting syndrome has gone international and both Parker and Diaw have caught a mild case of it. Incidentally, a few years back Diaw was the French League MVP while averaging about seven points per game ... the first ever league MVP to average less than 10.
In the group's other game, Slovenia surprised Greece in a 68-56 win. New Orleans Hornets forward Bostjan Nachbar had a solid game with 14 points and five rebounds, while Spurs center Rasho Nesterovic struggled offensively (3-for-9 from the field and 0-for-4 from the free-throw line) but did his job on the boards.
For more information on the tournament, game reports, stats, results, standings and video highlights, go to www.eurobasket2005.com.
Simon Wilkinson writes for The Press Association in Europe.