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Kevin Durant is ready for the world

Nets superstar begins chase for third gold Sunday vs. France

July 22, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Kevin Durant couldn’t win his third NBA championship ring here in Brooklyn this past season.

But the Brooklyn Nets’ superstar forward is in Tokyo, Japan now hoping to grab a record-tying third gold medal with Team USA as they open their Olympic men’s basketball schedule Sunday against France.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Durant, who can join Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony as the only players ever to win gold on three separate occasions with the U.S. national team.

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Just like Durant’s ongoing quest for the Nets’ first-ever title, taking the top podium spot in Tokyo won’t come easy.

Team USA only had eight of its 12 players available when they flew to Japan earlier this week.

Recently crowned NBA champions Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks, Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls standout Zach LaVine, who cleared health and safety protocols Tuesday night, will join their fellow Americans on the eve of Sunday’s contest.

Durant, who spent most of this season adjusting to players coming in and out of the Nets’ lineup, including himself, isn’t shying away from the challenge of chasing gold with two of the players who helped knock him and Brooklyn out of the Eastern Conference semifinals last month.

“Adding three guys, two champions, newly crowned champions and another guy who’s been on that stage and knows what it’s all about to win big games and play big games … it’s going to help,” he noted.

Though he played his heart out during the Nets’ two playoff rounds, including an historic 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist effort against Milwaukee in Game 5, Durant isn’t holding a grudge over the Bucks’ recently completed dash to the franchise’s first championship since 1971.

Kevin Durant’s bid for a series-saving jumper in overtime last month fell short as the Nets were eliminated by the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks at Downtown’s Barclays Center. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

“Congrats to the Bucks, an amazing team who fought through a lot the last few years to get to this point,” Durant said.

“Nothing but respect for them.”

Nothing short of gold will be deemed satisfactory for Durant and his teammates as they look to build on gold medals in 2012 and 2016.

However, due to COVID-19 protocols and injuries to former team members like Kevin Love and Bradley Beal, Team USA will only get to practice together once before hitting the floor against the French this weekend.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do when they get here the day before,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday.

“Luckily, it’s basketball. Try to keep it simple and take care of what we think we can take care of. … The good thing is, they’ll be in shape. I don’t know how the plane’s going to affect them, because it’s not an easy flight.”

While Durant felt the Nets might have let one get away this past year due to injuries and seemingly ever-changing lineups, he isn’t about to let a lack of familiarity playing alongside his U.S. teammates keep him from that third gold medal in Japan.

“It’s on (Popovich) to establish roles and sets and defensive schemes and we got to abide by it and I think everybody here is bought in to what we’re trying to do and we’re going to go out there and capture this gold,” he noted.

“So whatever he needs us to do we’re all adaptable players that can pretty much play multiple positions so looking forward to the challenge of figuring out this chemistry and keep rolling from here.”

Team USA head men’s basketball coach Gregg Popovich will have to work fast to get his unit ready for Sunday’s Olympic opener in Japan. AP Photo by John Locher

Following their opener vs. France on Sunday at 8 a.m. EDT, Team USA will take on Iran Wednesday at 12:40 p.m. EDT. Both games will be held in Saitama, Japan.

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