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Three questions the Indiana Pacers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 42-40, swept in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Larry Bird resigned then the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, a horrible deal that got the summer off on the wrong track. Indiana also swapped Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis for Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in order to prevent bottoming out. The Pacers picked T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) in the draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PACERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Indiana escape its unsatisfying track? The Pacers are headed toward winning 30-something games, missing the playoffs and picking in the bottom of the lottery. It’s a miserable place to be.

Be just a little better, and they could make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Be just a little worse, and they could land a premier draft pick.

Either direction is preferable to the apparent status quo.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to tank. Hence, their offseason strategy. But if the season goes south quickly, they could embrace losing by trading veterans and/or giving more minutes to young players.

Competing for the playoffs is a little trickier, but Indiana has enough veterans where that could take care of itself. The odds are against it, but this team is capable of sneaking in with the right breaks.

2) Can Victor Oladipo handle the expectations thrust upon him? Oladipo didn’t choose to return to the basketball-crazed state where he starred in college. He didn’t ask to be the Pacers’ main return for Paul George.

But here he is.

Oladipo is a solid player, and at 25, he might still be improving. He’ll have to in order to justify the George trade (and maybe even his four-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in this season).

No longer playing with Russell Westbrook should help. Oladipo regressed while trying to play a spot-up role next to the Oklahoma City superstar last season. Indiana needs Oladipo to be more aggressive with the ball, a role that better suits him. Whether he’s good enough to handle those responsibilities on a good team is another question entirely, though.

3) Will Myles Turner break out? With George gone, Turner is now the Pacers’ franchise player (ignoring how the team might market Oladipo, who returns after starring with the Hoosiers).

Turner has all the potential to be a modern rim-protecting, 3-point-shooting center. He can get more comfortable beyond the arc. He must fine-tune his defense. But all the future looks bright for the 21-year-old.

He was intriguing as a rookie then even better last year. How steeply Turner continues to ascend will play a major role in whether Indiana exceeds expectations this season – and how its rebuild looks beyond.

Watch Kobe Bryant memorial live stream (video)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Thousands of mourners will gather in Staples Center on Monday to say farewell to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

The basketball superstar and his 13-year-old daughter will be honored in a public memorial at the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant died along with seven others on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.

The Celebration of Life will feature speakers reflecting on Kobe Bryant’s impact on his sport and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant’s on-court achievements. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after he retired from basketball in 2016.

Bryant’s family, dozens of sports greats and many major figures in Bryant’s public life are expected to attend.

Staples Center is sold out for the memorial. The money made from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.

Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, including the final 17 seasons at Staples Center, which opened in 1999. The five-time NBA champion’s two retired jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – hang high above the arena where he became the third-leading scorer in league history until Lakers star LeBron James passed him on the night before Bryant’s death.

Bryant’s death caused an outpouring of grief across Los Angeles, where he remained the city’s most popular athlete into retirement. Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis, and thousands of fans gathered daily outside Staples Center to commiserate after the crash.

Symbolic meanings will run throughout the ceremony, which will be held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother, chose Feb. 24 as the date in honor of the uniform numbers of Kobe and Gianna, who wore No. 2 on her youth basketball teams.

A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Orange County on Feb. 7.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo throws dead ball into air, hits Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in head

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What an unfortunate encapsulation of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s time with the Lakers.

At least Rajon Rondo, beyond this gaffe, did plenty to help the Lakers beat the Celtics.

Bucks’ minor-league coach goes on epic rant, calls ref ‘f—ing clown’ (video)

Bucks' minor-league affiliate Wisconsin Herd vs. Pistons minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Drive
Mike E. Roemer/NBAE via Getty Images
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After coaching the Wisconsin Herd (Bucks’ minor-league affiliate) to a loss to the Grand Rapids Drive (Pistons’ minor-league affiliate), Chase Buford – son of Spurs CEO R.C. Buford – had a normal one.

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:

Buford:

The officiating definitely went right for Grand Rapids. That was as unprofessional as an officiating performance. I hope you tweet this out and tag the league, because that was embarrassing. Matt Rafferty is a f—ing clown. That being said, we have to be so much better at the end of games. We can’t blow a 21-point lead with 12 minutes to go. However bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating the referees are, we have to be better at closing games. And so that’s the way I feel.

Herd:

The words are amazing: “f—ing clown,” “illegal,” “cheating.”

But the hair really completes the whole unhinged motif.

Mavericks protesting loss to Hawks

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was irate after his team’s loss to the Hawks on Saturday.

He’s putting his money where his Twitter fingers are.

Dallas is protesting the game, according to the Last Two Minute Report. That requires posting a $10,000 fee to be refunded only if the challenge prevails.

The contentious play occurred in the final 10 seconds. Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith was called for goaltending Trae Young‘s shot. The play was reviewed and ruled a clean block. However, officials determined the whistle was therefore inadvertent and blew while John Collins was in his shooting motion on a successful putback attempt. So, Collins’ basket counted.

The Mavericks are claiming officials misapplied the rules – a key distinction for a protest. A simple missed call won’t get it done.

Protests rarely succeed. This one probably won’t.

But I think Dallas has a chance. The whistle wasn’t inadvertent. It was intentional. It was for a wrong call. But it was intentional.

Even if the challenge is successful and the Mavericks get their desired jump ball in a re-do, they’d still be trailing by two in the final seconds. They’d still be underdogs.

On the other hand, odds still strongly favor Cuban getting fined… eventually.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

The NBA plans to await commissioner Adam Silver’s ruling on a Dallas Mavericks game protest before leveling possible discipline on owner Mark Cuban for his behavior during and after the Mavericks’ loss to Atlanta on Saturday night.