LAS VEGAS — Team USA men’s basketball has been a subject of scrutiny for the last five days with the basketball community expressing its enormous disappointment in the team getting off to an unprecedented 0-2 exhibition start ahead of the Olympics in Tokyo.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, the face of Team USA, is just chilling in his hotel suite at Aria Resort & Casino.
“I’m doing fine, myself,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I haven’t really left my room with the health and safety protocols we’re following. Not really watching much [NBA Finals] basketball. I’m just out here to hoop, stay safe and get better. The s*** people are saying doesn’t bother me. It’s all about context.”
Team USA lost a shocker to Nigeria 90-87 in the friendly opener on Saturday and followed that up with a 91-83 stunning loss to Australia two days later. Before facing Nigeria, Team USA was 54-2 in exhibitions since 1992.
They were finally able to get off the schneid on Tuesday in routing Argentina 108-80.
Head coach Gregg Popovich has only been able to muster up a little under a handful of practices since training camp began last week. Durant said the reason he’s unfazed by the slow start is because he knew what the team would be up against once camp kicked off.
“We’re a team that’s still coming together and trying to find our identity,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “We have so many great players that you can play so many different ways, and we are indecisive at times on defense and offense. In the midst of us figuring it out, these teams are established and they’re running their sets. We’re working on our sets. The stars were kind of aligned for us to lose early on.”
There's the argument that with the abundance of talent on Team USA, and regardless of the lack in preparation time, these shortcomings shouldn’t be materializing.
Durant noted that the context was important.
“It’s easy to say that after two losses without any context,” Durant tells Yahoo Sports. “Let's just go down the roster of each team and you can find the answer. If you’re looking for NBA talent, those teams have it. Understand where we’re at as a team and then you can make assumptions for yourself. We do have all the best players in the league, but these national teams have NBA players, too, who are now No. 1 options and they’re used to playing that role internationally. We’re still adjusting as a team, and that’s not making excuses. There's a lot of context people need to understand. We didn’t expect to lose a game, but losing games happen. We’ll get it right.”
If they are to find continuity, it won’t be in the form of team gatherings in Las Vegas. Players for the most part, with the exception of a few, have been spending the bulk of their downtime with family and friends.
“Whether we know each other or not, our jobs are on the basketball court,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “All that extra s*** about bonding and all that other stuff is cool, but you win games by playing and performing well. That’s my focus. We just got to take the court ready to work. We’re looking at going through a real progression as a team. We’re not looking at it like we’re going to come out here and blow everybody out. We know it’s going to be a grind, and that’s fine. It's a competition.”
The Brooklyn Nets superstar being here is a miracle in itself after returning from a gruesome Achilles tear that cost him the entire 2019-20 season. Durant almost single-handedly advanced the Nets to the Eastern Conference finals.
Coming off of an injury like that, along with the workload he adopted late in the playoffs, he said there was never a doubt he wouldn’t be joining the Olympic squad if he was healthy enough.
“I just feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life,” he told Yahoo Sports. “What the f*** am I supposed to do? I didn’t need anybody to motivate me to play for my country. If I needed that, I wouldn't be here.”
Team USA has two more exhibition games to play in Las Vegas before leaving for Tokyo next week, vs. Australia on July 16 and vs. Spain on July 18. Durant and company will have a chance to prove that they’re a better team than they were a week ago.
This Olympic go-around, the gold will not be as attainable as it has been for previous USA teams, although BetMGM still has them listed as the gold medal favorite (-400). But it’s a fight Durant says they’re up for accepting.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and we’re prepared to go to work,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “Our goal [of winning gold] hasn't changed. We'll be ready.”
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