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September 25, 2017

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Spain's Gasol confident but China a concern

LONDON -- Spanish NBA star Pau Gasol is confident his team can once again challenge the United States Dream Team for Olympic supremacy but is cautious about the team's opener Sunday against China.

"We want to start off playing well," Gasol said. "It's not always the best or easiest game to play. Everything is so emotional to start off. We are going to have to play very well and be very focused to start the way we want.

"Our goal is to, at the end of the tournament, fight for the medals. We would like to have the chance to play for the gold. That means us beating a lot of good teams in the tournament, starting with China."

After losing to the U.S. collection of NBA stars 100-78 in Barcelona in their final Olympic tuneup, the Spaniards hope to improve in the coming weeks, especially with the return of Pau's NBA big man brother Marc Gasol.

"We are ready. We're right where we want to be," Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. "We can improve in the next few days."

With Spanish sport fans also hurting after their men's football team lost 1-0 to Japan, the Spaniards hope to help their supporters' mood with a good start.

"We want to compete well and put smiles upon the faces of the people, said Scariolo. "This is always the way in sport."

But the Spanish coach does not overlook China either.

"Of course it's a different time but a lot of our guys remember when Spain struggled against China. We are aware it's going to be a very tough game," said Scariolo.

"Yi Jianlian is a real international star and they have a few more players who are good shooters and well organized."

That means Gasol, a star forward with the NBA Los Angeles Lakers opposite U.S. Olympic guard Kobe Bryant, has had to adapt to a greater role as playmaker than he has while playing with the Lakers.

"I have been preparing myself and working to get better for the Olympics to perform at a high level and achieve our goal," Gasol said.

"My role is definitely different here than with the Lakers. I'm the guy everybody counts on. Everything evolves around my play. And everybody contributes in different ways, not just scoring."

As Scariolo put it: "He has to adapt himself to overcome in all situations."

Gasol was selected to be Spain's flag bearer in the Olympic opening ceremony.

"It's an amazing honor," Gasol said. "I feel very lucky and privileged to lead all our athletes. I'm sure it will be emotional and I will enjoy it."

Gasol respects the U.S. stars and their pre-Olympic exhibition victory over Spain as well as the defeat of the Spaniards in the 2008 Olympic final.

But Gasol is hoping that he and his teammates have another chance against the Americans next month in the Olympic playoffs.

"It doesn't put pressure on us for our ambitions," Gasol said of this week's loss. "The U.S. team is very strong. We would like to play well against them. We will need to keep our feet on the ground and realize they are not invincible."

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