Tokyo Olympics: Beal blow ‘devastating’ but Kerr delighted to have Durant on board

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Washington Wizards guard Beal was last week forced to withdraw from the Games through health and safety protocols.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love also pulled out due to injury and fitness concerns, with Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee called up as replacements.

It has hardly been the ideal build-up to the men’s basketball competition for the USA, but Kerr feels particular sympathy for Beal due to the circumstances surrounding his withdrawal.

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“We all feel terribly for Bradley, who was having a great camp and was so looking forward to playing in the Olympics,” Kerr said at a news conference on Thursday.

“To then have that opportunity taken away – it’s devastating. But it’s 2021, we’re all sort of used to this by now. You just have to keep pushing forward.

“We’ve all been through [the effects of coronavirus and protocols] in the NBA season. You just kind of roll with the punches. More than anything, you just cross your fingers and hope that everybody is testing negatively and being able to play.”

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Despite the disruption, the USA will head into the competition as strong favourites as they look to win gold for a seventh time in their most recent eight attempts.

Durant was part of the victorious teams in 2012 and 2016 and this year averaged 26.9 points per game in the regular NBA season and 34.3 in the postseason.

He will have a big part to play if Team USA are to retain their crown and Kerr has no concerns about the 32-year-old stepping up in Tokyo.

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“I just think Kevin is one of the most skilled basketball players in the history of the game,” Kerr said.

“It’s amazing to watch him at 6ft 11in, to see his fluidity on the floor, his footwork, the extension on his jump shot – it’s almost impossible to challenge his shot.

“He’s a breathtaking player and that translates to any basketball – NBA, FIBA – it doesn’t matter, his game is gonna translate.”

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As well as losing some key players ahead of the tournament, USA also suffered defeats to Nigeria and Australia in exhibition games before beating Spain in their final warm-up.

First up at Tokyo 2020 for the competition’s most successful ever side is a Sunday showdown with France in what will be the first meeting between the sides since the latter prevailed 89-79 in the quarter-finals of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

“We know the team well, they haven’t changed much in that time,” Kerr said. “They have all the same guys with Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum, Nando de Colo and others.

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“One of the interesting things about international basketball is that our team changes every year, and the teams we play against stay the same. And the big challenge is that they have a lot of continuity.

“We know the team we played against two summers ago, we know them pretty well, and we’re hoping that experience can can help us this time around.”

The USA also face Iran and the Czech Republic in the preliminary group phase, with each game being staged in Saitama.

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