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Team USA hoops face tough first test against France

This doesn’t seem like a confidence-building, walk-in-the-park opener for the U.S. men’s basketball team.

The exhibition issues Team USA faced will be immediately put to the test. Its first Tokyo Olympics opponent, France, won the last meeting between the two countries, in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals two years ago.

The French team has a roster that features NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, quality shooters Nicolas Batum and Evan Fournier, along with Frank Ntilikina of the Knicks and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot of the Nets.

“Everybody wants to beat us,” Nets star Kevin Durant told reporters of Team USA. “Everyone wants to see us lose, so every game has a little more pressure to it. A lot of guys dropped out. A lot of circumstances. 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.”


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The U.S. enters Group A action very much a work in progress while chasing a fourth straight gold medal. Star guard Bradley Beal didn’t make the trip to Japan due to COVID-19 issues. Kevin Love opted out due to a calf injury that hadn’t healed as expected. Unheralded players Keldon Johnson and Javale McGee replaced them.

Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton of the Bucks and Devin Booker of the Suns were still busy with the NBA Finals, so they weren’t available for the four exhibition games, two of which America lost, to Nigeria and Australia. Gregg Popovich, the U.S. head coach, said he has no clue how to use them yet, though they will be available to play Sunday.

Jerami Grant and Zach LaVine missed time due to COVID-19 protocols. The team that will take the court Sunday has had virtually no time together, paling in comparison to the countries the United States will face.

“That’s one of the interesting things about international basketball is our team changes every year and the teams we play against stay the same, and that’s the big challenge,” Warriors coach and Team USA assistant Steve Kerr said.

The exhibition losses led to concern of a repeat of the dismal showing at the 2004 Athens Games, when the United States settled for a bronze medal. While there is plenty of star power on this year’s team, from Durant to Booker to Damian Lillard, the U.S. is low on experience — only Durant and Draymond Green were on the 2016 gold medal-winning team — and is without many of the NBA’s best players. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving opted not to play for a variety of reasons.

Starting Sunday against France, the U.S. can go one of two directions: Prove those worries were foolish or draw more comparisons to 2004 in Athens.

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