The US men’s basketball team - which has won the Olympics gold six times - are an awe-inspiring lot. While the presence of NBA stars makes them the perpetual ‘Dream Team’ ever since the professionals were allowed to feature from Barcelona 1992, even an odd defeat becomes big news.
“Every team wants to beat us. Everyone wants to see us lose so every game has a little more pressure to it,” Kevin Durant, the two-time gold medallist and Brooklyn Nets star was quoted as saying in the media in Japan on Wednesday.
The US men’s team recently dropped two exhibition games ahead of the Games - losing to Australia and Nigeria – before then quickly bouncing back with wins over Argentina and Spain.
“It’s always good to get a punch in the mouth early on, to remind us that it’s not going to be a cakewalk,” Durant said. “I’m sure other teams saw us lose and feel confident coming into the tournament, but we understand what we are getting ourselves into and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
“So many people are used to Team USA coming in and blowing everyone else so it’s good for us to see that. Hopefully those are the last losses.”
The question on everyone’s lips regarded the flight status of recent NBA championship winners Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, and finalist Devin Booker, and whether they would be fit to play in their opening game against France on Sunday.
Durant is wary of the opening game. “France is a well-oiled machine. They’ve been playing together since they were kids. They know each other; there’s a lot of NBA players on that team.”
Gregg Popovich, the decorated head coach of US, confirmed that they would not feature as his players only land in Japan capital on Saturday. “There’s not a whole lot we can do when they get here the day before,” the five-time NBA champion as San Antonio Spurs coach and their President explained.
“The good thing is they’ll be in shape. I don’t know how the plane is going to affect them - that’s not an easy flight. But it is true they won’t be as ready to play in the sense of execution that we might want but that’s understandable.”
Middleton and Holiday had excelled this season for the Milwaukee Bucks as the two helped their side end a 50-year title drought after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game VI 105-98.
“Three guys – two champions, newly crowned champions. And another guy who has been on that stage and knows all about it, winning big games and playing it big games. So add the IQs, three of those guys IQs to the team – it’s going to help.”
Popovich also revealed that Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine would be returning to camp after initially failing to clear health protocols. “I think he’ll [LaVine] be available for practice on Friday, and assuming everything goes well he’ll be available on Sunday.”
“Chemistry is something that we hope forms quickly. These guys get along very well… they know each other and they’re very happy to be here. They sacrificed a lot under the circumstances to do this.”