Nets star Kevin Durant knows most of the world is rooting against Team USA, and their stunning exhibition losses emboldened their foes that they can be beaten.
But Durant said it also reminded Team USA they can be beaten, reinforced they’ll need to earn their way to Olympic gold in Tokyo. And that’s a good thing.
“Yeah, yeah, I feel like we’re understanding what coach [Gregg Popovich] wants from us on both ends of the floor,” Durant said after Team USA practice. “I feel like guys are getting more comfortable with each other in their roles on a team, and that’s only going to go well for us as we start to play real games.
“So it was good to kind of get a punch in the mouth early on to remind us that there’s not going to be a cakewalk. So many people were used to Team USA coming in blowing everybody out, so it was good for us to see that. Now hopefully those are the last losses.”
Durant and Popovich are counting on those upset losses to Nigeria and Australia in their first two exhibition games back in Las Vegas having gotten Team USA’s full attention. But they’ve certainly gotten their foes’ attention as well, buoying the hopes of teams like France coming into Sunday’s preliminary-round opener.
“Every team wants to beat us. Everybody wants to see us lose. So every game has a little bit more pressure to it,” said Durant. “And a lot of guys dropped out, a lot of circumstances. And I’m sure other teams [have] seen us lose and feel confident coming into the tournament. But we understand what we’re getting ourselves into, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Those guys dropping out are Wizards star Bradley Beal (health and safety protocols) and Cavaliers big man Kevin Love (injury recovery) being forced to withdraw. Zach LaVine is en route to Japan after his own quarantine, with Popovich saying the wing could practice Thursday and play Sunday.
With Team USA having only eight players until reinforcements show up (LaVine and NBA Finals trio Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker), Durant will carry an oversized burden. He’s also just 25 points from becoming Team USA’s all-time Olympic scorer, but claims that’s not a point of emphasis.
“No, records are meant to be broken and people calling you the greatest, that’s all opinion,” said Durant. “I can’t concern myself with that. It’s about how I come to work every day.”
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