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US Men’s National Team begins Olympic journey vs. France

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

Time to make it happen. The United States Men’s Basketball Team had a rocky start to their exhibition sessions, but they got their act together as they closed things out. They’re one of the favorites to win the gold medal, but the road to gold will be a hard one.

The first opponent on the board will be France. France has a veteran team packed with players we know well around these parts.

Where to follow the game

Tip off after 8 a.m. ET. That’s right, A.M. not P.M. Game is on Peacock, the NBC streaming service.

Injuries

Woo boy, buckle up. Bradley Beal is out thanks to COVID protocols. Zach Lavine was in protocols, but cleared it last weekend. No word yet on if he plays. Jerami Grant was in protocols, but he cleared it and is back on the team. Kevin Love left the team due to not playing to his standards as he continues to recover from injuries that wrecked his NBA season. Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Devin Booker just finished up the NBA Finals so who knows how ready they’ll be for this one. They weren’t on hand for the Olympic Opening Ceremony’s Parade of Nations.

The game

We mentioned COVID protocols turning the USA roster upside down, but the replacements might be better suited for this tournament. Keldon Johnson is replacing Beal and his energy and size on the wings will do wonders for Gregg Popovich and friends. Johnson’s family expressed joy and excitement at his selection, and his energy in the second unit will give USA the jolt they need to withstand tough competition.

Javale McGee was the replacement for Love, and Team USA’s bigs will have a tough battle with France’s Rudy Gobert. Gobert is one of the best rim protecting bigs in basketball and international rules allow for players to bat the ball off the rim, so the big guy will look to scare the USA guards away from the rim. McGee, Bam Adebayo, and Draymond Green will do their best to battle him on the boards and in the case of Adebayo and Green on offense, pull the reigning Defensive Player of the Year away from the rim.

It’s not a “bubble,” but kinda close. With the residents of Japan not wanting the Games to begin with and COVID running wild in Japan, the athletes making the trip into Tokyo will be stuck in the village. Sports are filled with political ramifications, and these Olympics in particular are baked with even more geopolitical implications.

When we last saw Evan Fournier, he was trying to bait a few of the Nets into conflict in the playoffs. It didn’t work so Fournier is hoping this run of competition goes better than the Celtics’ series with the Nets in the NBA playoffs. Fournier is France’s best perimeter option and they’re going to need him to make things happen from deep to keep up with the Americans. He’s been a good three point shooter throughout his career

Nicolas Batum is coming off a fantastic playoff run with the Los Angeles Clippers, and he’ll look to continue his run of great play here. He can play a smallball 5, is a good ballhandler with solid court vision, and can plug any hole your team has. He’s also an unrestricted free agent.

Frank Ntilikana will be crucial to France’s chances today. He didn’t play in France’s final tuneup, but the Knick free agent (and possible Brooklyn Nets target?) ought to see a lot of minutes tonight. He’ll see Damian Lillard, and Dame is the second go-to scoring option for Pop’s squad. Lillard has unlimited range, which opens things up for everyone else as defenders have to stay attached to his hip.

Player to watch: Kevin Durant

Well, DUH!

If the USA wants to bring home the gold, KD will have to be the man to lead them to it. This is KD’s third trip to the Olympics after gold medal wins in 2012 and 2016. As we know, Durant can score from anywhere on the court and with the increased physicality FIBA allows, defenders will do their best to muscle him up and force him out of his spots.

As Durant said this week, it’s good Team USA took a “punch” in the exhibition games, losing to Nigeria and Australia, noting it won’t be a “cake walk.”

Olympic TLC?!?!?! Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is someone we know around these parts in Brooklyn, but he’ll look to play a bigger role on the French National Team. We know he’s someone that looks to find his own shot and he’ll look to serve as a spark. Isaia Cordinier, the Nets French stash, flew to Tokyo with “Les Bleus” as a practice player and is now back in Paris.

From the Vault

Team USA beat France in the Gold Medal game in 2000, but before that, they played in one of the earlier games. You know what’s about to happen next...

More reading: SB Nation