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Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard to serve ‘significant roles’ for Team USA in Tokyo

Argentina v United States Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Team USA has faced several obstacles in the home stretch of their preparation for the Tokyo Games while in Vegas, raising concern for success ahead of their chase for the elusive gold.

Now, after dropping two of their three exhibition games, Team USA has gotten hit with a couple of roundhouses.

Bradley Beal was forced to opt-out of the Tokyo Olympics following entering health and safety protocols earlier this week, which also resulted in the exhibition rematch against Australia Friday night being canceled.

Shortly after the stunning news, Kevin Love announced that he has withdrawn from Team USA after 10 days due to a lingering calf injury — the same injury that kept him out of action for most of the 2020-21 season with the Cavaliers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that JaVale McGee and Keldon Johnson will fill the two vacant spots on the 12-man roster for Tokyo. Team USA officially announced the additions of McGee and Johnson Friday evening.

Team USA also has reinforcements on the way. Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, all playing in the NBA Finals, will join the team in Tokyo. With the Finals possibly extending all the way to July 22, three days before the US faces France in Tokyo, Team USA is going to need Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard to carry the Americans all the way to the medal stand on August 6. Lillard said so himself.

Lillard explained on Friday just how he and Durant will have to play “significant roles on the team” but stressed the talent that Team USA still has on their 12-man roster.

“I wouldn’t say carry the team but obviously we’ll have significant roles on the team. It’s a blow to lose Brad. K-Love; a rebounder and a guy that has Olympic experience. He can shoot the ball and would do well with the physicality. I think it’s a blow to lose those guys, but we got a lot of great players on this team and a lot of versatility on this team,” said Lillard after Team USA’s practice Friday afternoon.

“I think myself and KD will have to go over there and play a significant role and we’ll have to do what we do, but I don’t look at it like we have to carry the team. It’s a team full of the best players across our league. Obviously, we’ll have to do well. We’ll have to be elite basketball players but I don’t think it’ll be like ‘we have to go over there and carry the team,’” Lillard added.

Australia v United States Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

While it’s Lillard’s first time representing the USA in the Olympics, Durant is a veteran of FIBA ball. He’s the most decorated U.S Olympian on the roster, boasting three international gold medals from the 2012 and the 2016 Olympic Games plus a 2010 FIBA World Championship. The Nets 32-year-old superstar is also on track to pass Carmelo Anthony's scoring record, trailing Melo by only 25 points. That shouldn’t take long.

During Team USA’s second day of camp in Vegas, Bradley Beal provided high praise to Durant for his leadership early on and explained how he expects the 32-year-old to lead them.

“He said something very unique today. He said ‘be special. That’s why we’re here.’ And that stuck on to me. So hopefully, we can keep that mentality and understand that we’re here for a reason,” Beal said after the second day of camp.

Team USA will certainly need to be special to bring back home the gold. The team has only one exhibition remaining — Sunday, July 16 against Spain at 9:00 p,m. ET — before flying to Tokyo for the Olympic Games to open up the tournament against France and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. That game airs July 25 at 8:00 a.m. ET.

For Lillard, Friday was eventful. One day after his 31st birthday, the six-time NBA All-Star had to battle rumors that he had asked for a trade from the Blazers, the only team he’s ever played for. Lillard said he hadn’t demanded to be dealt but was talking with Blazer GM Neil Olshey later Friday