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“I was explaining to (Westbrook) and (Kevin Durant) what’s so cool about the Olympics is they are on the biggest team you’ll ever be on,” Paul said. “You see all the athletes with USA T-shirts on … we’re all teammates.”

They begin play Sunday against France, a medal contender led by Spurs All-Star Tony Parker that features six NBA players, trailing only the U.S. for most in the field. The French are in a group of teams along with Spain, Argentina and Brazil — all of whom lost to the Americans in exhibition play — who could challenge a U.S. team that believes it’s better than it was in 2008 but recognizes that its opponents are, too, and won’t take anything for granted.

“I think there’s always a target on our back and every team, their biggest game is against us,” swingman Andre Iguodala said. “I feel like some teams are happy with just losing by less than 10. We had exhibition games where teams, they lost, but they were just happy it wasn’t a 50-point game. And then sometimes even back home, like, we can’t be arrogant. We have to be humble and we have to go in every game, play hard, play respectful, because anything done the wrong the way on our end will be blown out of proportion. So we’re kind of, that microscope has been put on us.”

The Americans were never threatened in 2008 until the gold-medal game, when they pulled away in the final two minutes to beat Spain by 11. They had some difficult stretches in exhibition play, trailing Brazil and Spain after one quarter and having a 20-point lead cut to four in the final minutes by Argentina, so they aren’t assuming a simple path back to gold.

“I don’t think anything’s going to be easy,” guard Deron Williams said.

Not even the bus rides.