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Pacers hope to start new winning streak in showdown with Raptors

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TORONTO (AP)– The Indiana Pacers will be trying to start another winning streak Wednesday night when they visit the Toronto Raptors, who have lost two in a row.

The Pacers had their season-best, seven-game winning streak stopped in dramatic fashion Tuesday night when the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers earned a 92-91 victory on a tip-in at the final buzzer.

The Pacers’ streak was the first time they had won seven consecutive games since Jan. 26-Feb. 6, 2017.

The loss was surprising because the Cavaliers were winning for only the eighth time in 31 games this season. With Toronto coming up on the schedule the next night, there were concerns that it might be a trap game for Indiana.

“We’ve been able to win some games,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said before the game. “And we can’t get bored with winning and assume it’s going to happen regardless of who’s coming in to play.”

The Pacers (20-11) shot just 39.8 percent from the field, 18.2 percent from 3-point range and 61.9 percent on free throws.

The lack of execution on offense was particularly painful for the Pacers when Victor Oladipo missed two free throws with 9.5 seconds remaining that would have given them a three-point lead.

It was the first loss for the Pacers in the 11 times they have held their opponents to 97 or fewer points this season.

“I’ve got to be better,” said Oladipo, who scored 12 points. “I’ve got to be better down the stretch. I’ve got to make free throws, that’s my job as a leader on this team to step up and make big free throws and make big shots and make good decisions down the stretch. This one’s on me, man, I’ll be better in future.”

Meanwhile, the Raptors are coming off losses to the Portland Trailblazers and the Denver Nuggets on Friday and Sunday respectively after starting the four-game trip with impressive wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.

After the game Sunday, Raptors coach Nick Nurse criticized the lack of foul calls against Kawhi Leonard. Nurse was fined $15,000 for publicly criticizing the officials.

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said after the game on Sunday. “So, he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.”

Nurse add little to add on Tuesday. “I just thought it was time to do it,” he said. “I’m gonna back my players.”

Leonard appreciated the backing. “We’re playing it and we might see it a certain way and we always feel like we’re right on the floor,” the forward said. “But when you have your coach watching it and seeing the same things that you’re feeling then it’s great.”

The Raptors, meanwhile, are dealing with injuries.

Kyle Lowry (left thigh contusion) has missed the past two games and Nurse said that the point guard is “maybe more questionable than probable” for Wednesday.

Pascal Siakam (stiff back), Fred VanVleet (sore back) and Danny Green (who was poked in the eye Sunday) could be in the lineup Wednesday. Serge Ibaka (swollen right knee) is listed as questionable.

Jonas Valanciunas (dislocated left thumb) is out.

But Norman Powell (left shoulder subluxation) is expected to play Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 5.

The game Wednesday will be the first of three meetings between the Pacers and Raptors this season, followed by games Jan. 6 again at Scotiabank Arena and Jan. 23 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Toronto has won the season-series against Indiana the past four seasons, including a 3-1 advantage last season.

Possible top-10 pick Sekou Doumbouya declares for NBA draft

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Just three 18-year-olds have played in the NBA since the league instituted its one-and-done rule: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dragan Bender and Devin Booker.

Sekou Doumbouya – who’ll remain 18 until Dec. 23 – could become the fourth.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

French forward Sekou Doumbouya has submitted paperwork to the league office to make himself eligible for the 2019 NBA draft, his agent, Bouna Ndiaye of Comsport, told ESPN.

Doumbouya projects as a potential lottery pick.

The 6-foot-9 power forward is extremely physically developed for his age. He’s strong and mobile, and he can elevate.

But he’s still early in his skill development. His shot, handle and feel all need work.

Doumbouya has plenty of tools. His rebounding is already impressive. The rest? It’ll be a project.

Report: Pelicans cut Lakers GM Rob Pelinka from Anthony Davis trade talks

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On Jan. 31, a report emerged the Pelicans hadn’t returned the Lakers’ calls about Anthony Davis. Later that day, another report said the Pelicans and Lakers discussed a Davis trade.

That sparked questions: Was the first report wrong? Did New Orleans and Los Angeles begin talking that day?

Maybe we missed an important distinction.

The first report said then-Pelicans general manager Dell Demps hadn’t returned Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka’s calls. The second report said Demps spoke with Lakers president Magic Johnson.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Pelinka was mostly cut out of trade talks between L.A. and New Orleans, with the Pelicans preferring to deal directly with Johnson, multiple league sources told ESPN.

Since Johnson stunningly resigned, Pelinka has assumed control in Los Angeles. The Lakers surely still want to trade for Davis.

Will having Pelinka running the front office impair their ability to do so?

We don’t know why the Pelicans rebuffed Pelinka. Different theories bring varying levels of present concern.

Maybe the Pelicans just didn’t want to waste their time with someone who’s not in charge. That’s often an issue when lower-level executives contact other teams. If that’s the case, Pelinka assuming the top job in basketball operations would solve the problem.

Maybe Demps was still bitter with Pelinka over Pelinka’s time as an agent. In 2012, New Orleans restricted free agent Eric Gordon – represented by Pelinka – signed an offer sheet with the Suns. Gordon lobbied hard to leave New Orleans, even saying his heart was in Phoenix. Though New Orleans matched, the saga caused animosity. But the Pelicans fired Demps and hired David Griffin, who’ll now oversee Davis. If this was a personal issue between Pelinka and Demps, that’s now irrelevant.

Maybe Pelinka is just that off-putting. I definitely don’t buy everything people say about him. Being a good agent often means ruffling feathers, and it’s easy for people he countered in negotiations to gossip about him now. But maybe there’s some truth to Pelinka being difficult to work with. If so, that’d come up again – not just with the Pelicans, but every team.

Report: Hornets not trading for Marc Gasol soured Kemba Walker on Hornets

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Kemba Walker has never had an All-Star teammate. For someone as established as Walker, that’s unprecedented.

The Hornets nearly paired Walker with a former All-Star, though. Shortly before the trade deadline, they reportedly nearly dealt for Marc Gasol. But talks stalled, and the Grizzlies instead sent Gasol to the Raptors.

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go over well with Walker, who was trying to lead a playoff push before entering free agency this summer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I got the sense in talking to people, that trade deadline really deflated him. When they were pretty close on a Marc Gasol deal, and it fell apart. It didn’t happen. He goes to Toronto. And he looks around and goes, “Come on, what are we trying to do here?”

The reported outline of the Gasol deal: Gasol for Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a protected first-round pick. The hang-up was reportedly on the specifics of the protection.

Which is important!

The Hornets shouldn’t have relinquished too high of a pick for a 34-year-old center just for a likely first-round loss.

Making the playoffs matters. Keeping Walker happy matters. But so does keeping draft picks to build the team going forward. Without knowing the exact line of the protection being haggled, I can’t say whether Charlotte erred by not making the trade. But there’s plenty of room to make passing the right call.

Shortly after the deadline, a rumor emerged Walker would likely leave the Hornets in free agency. This probably explains why.

But a lot has and will happen before Walker makes that call. Charlotte still made a strong late playoff push, though fell short. Walker could make an All-NBA team, which would make him eligible for a super-max contract.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he re-signs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he leaves, either.

What’s clear: He wants to win right now. Though it certainly won’t be the only factor, the Hornets’ stagnancy looks like a real negative when Walker ultimately decides.

Ben Simmons on feud with Jared Dudley: ‘I don’t really have energy for it. It’s done’

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Jared Dudley called Ben Simmons great in transition and average in the halfcourt.

Simmons responded: “It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.”

In the 76ers’ Game 3 win over the Nets last night, Simmons did what he frequently does – create high-efficiency transition and semi-transition opportunities for himself and teammates. He was also good in the halfcourt, though one game doesn’t establish Simmons in that facet.

Simmons, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I don’t really have energy for it,” Simmons said. “It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. Just gotta play.”

As I wrote earlier, this beef will be only as big as Simmons makes it. Dudley’s scouting report was largely accurate. He didn’t really say anything inflammatory, except to people in Philadelphia looking for a slight.

Apparently, after one dismissive comment and one excellent game, that’s no longer Simmons.