Jonas Valanciunas, Nikola Pekovic

Raptors trying to get Valanciunas to defend like Roy Hibbert

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In his rookie season, Roy Hibbert averaged 7.7 personal fouls per 36 minutes. You can’t stay on the court that way. Pacers coaches worked hard on teaching him how to play vertically — jump straight up and down and referees are less likely to make a call, even if there is contact. Don’t swing at the ball and try to block it, just be vertical when you go up. The past three seasons Hibbert has not averaged more than 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes, which is good considering how much the Pacers rely on him to protect the paint.

That brings us to Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, who is on everybody’s breakout players list — we’ve been telling you since Summer League. However, one of one of the issues he needs to get over to fulfill that promise is picking up fouls (4.6 per 36 minutes). He got sent to the bench too often after picking up early fouls last season.

Raptors coaches are working with Valanciunas on playing vertical, reports David Aldridge at NBA.com.

“He’s still learning,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Saturday. “The main thing with him is he had such a long way to go to learn the NBA, just the nuances of the NBA, the timing, the quickness … he came in blind. We had to tell him who the players were, what their strengths were. And he missed all of training camp last year. That start [last season] was a lot of him not knowing what was going on, and getting his timing back. As the year got better, he got better….”

The Raptors have worked with him extensively on the “Hibbert” (named after Roy, of course) defense — jumping vertically to challenge shooters instead of reaching and hacking.

“He’s far more comfortable in the NBA games,” Casey said. “More confident, moving with more confidence, understanding where to go, what to do…. And defensively, understanding the nuances of the NBA, the speed of the NBA. We need a rim protector and he needs to be a rim protector for us.”

Valanciunas has looked good in Summer League and in preseason, which counts for zip when the games get real in a couple weeks. Valanciunas still has to prove he can do this when it matters.

But he’s a guy to watch for a breakout year (and could be a good fantasy sleeper grab).

Kevin Garnett used Beyonce, singing as part of his NBA conditioning regimen

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Future NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett was known during his playing days for his exceptional conditioning. The athletic power forward was in a full sweat by tip-off, and constantly talking on both offense and defense.

So how did he do it?

According to JJ Redick, Garnett used to sing while running as a method of normalizing talking during a game. The practice was apparently modeled after Beyonce’s ability to dance and sing at the same time.

Via Time.com:

“One time I saw her working out, and she was doing her dances and she was singing while she was doing her dancing,” Garnett said to Redick. “So then I’m thinking to myself, maybe I should run and sing at the same time. So in the offseason, I would go to Malibu and I would go down to the beach, and when I run on the beach I would be like ‘Lalala lalala lalala,’ while I’m running. So then, when I get on the court and I’m getting back on defense and I’m talking on defense, I don’t get tired.”

That’s ingenious, and the kind of clever tactics you’d expect to come from a HOFer like Garnett.

Emotional Rip Hamilton back at Palace as Pistons retire No. 32

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) By the time Richard Hamilton’s tenure with the Detroit Pistons was over, the franchise was far removed from its days among the NBA’s elite. His final season with the team was a tumultuous one, and his exit seemed like the best move for everyone involved.

Once he was away, however, Hamilton realized what he’d left behind.

“I didn’t leave here on good terms,” Hamilton said before Detroit’s game Sunday night against Boston. “Every day I was in that locker room with that Bulls uniform on, it’s like, `This ain’t me. I’m a Piston.”‘

Hamilton was back at The Palace on Sunday, when the Pistons retired his No. 32 jersey at halftime of the game against the Celtics. It was an emotional honor for Hamilton and the Detroit fans, not just because of his contributions to the team over the years, but because it reflected a healing of sorts between him and the organization.

Hamilton last played with the Pistons in an acrimonious 2010-11 season. He had a falling out with coach John Kuester and was benched for most of a seven-week stretch, and Detroit eventually agreed with Hamilton on a buyout before the following season.

He ended up with Chicago, but the memories he left behind in Detroit were proud ones. Hamilton teamed up with Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace as the core of Detroit’s 2004 team that won the NBA title.

Those four former teammates were on hand for Sunday’s celebration, and so was Larry Brown, their coach on that championship team.

“I already cried three times, so I’m trying not to cry again today,” Hamilton said at a pregame media session.

Hamilton indeed was wiping away tears on the court at halftime after the ceremony began, especially when Billups stood to speak.

“You made me better every day,” Billups said. “Not only did you make me better, you made our team better.”

Hamilton spoke at length to the crowd – in fact, after thanking so many people close to him, he appeared a bit rushed at the end, with the game needing to resume.

“Detroit, the fans, I love you,” he said moments before his number went to the rafters. “Thanks a lot.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Father of UCLA star Lonzo Ball says son will only play for Lakers, then backtracks

UCLA guard Lonzo Ball (2) signals after making a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Freshman sensation Lonzo Ball is slated to be a Top 5 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The UCLA guard can shoot the lights out, and he’s on the big board of just about every team expecting a lottery selection this year.

However, Ball’s father LaVar recently made a statement that the UCLA sensation would only play for one team: The Los Angeles Lakers.

Via Twitter:

As worrying as that kind of statement is, just a day later LaVar Ball tried to clarify his intentions for his son to ESPN. Instead of a requirement, it was meant more as an open intention of desire.

Here’s what LaVar had to say to ESPN:

“All I said was that my boy is going to play for the Lakers, and I’m going to speak it into existence,” LaVar told ESPN on Saturday night. “I want him to be a Laker, but I wasn’t saying he’s only going to play for the Lakers. I’m not trying to say he won’t play for a different team. But I’d like him to play for the Lakers because it’s home and I’d love him to learn from Magic (Johnson) He’s the best guard ever to me, and nobody better for Lonzo to learn from than Magic Johnson.”

Interesting stuff from a guy who said his son was better than 2-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

It appears that LaVar is doing a bit of ham-fisted positioning for the upcoming draft through the media. That’s not to say there’s an expectation it’s going to work, but it certainly could push the needle for some NBA teams to explore Ball’s intentions further.

Mavericks sign Ben Bentil to fill spot following roster shuffle

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Ben Bentil #0 of the Providence Friars passes in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 85-66.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) The Dallas Mavericks have signed rookie forward Ben Bentil to a 10-day contract to fill one of the two spots from a roster shake-up that came at the trading deadline.

The addition of Bentil on Sunday puts the Ghana native in position to make his NBA debut. The former Providence player was drafted in the second round by Boston but was waived during the preseason.

Bentil has played in the NBA Development League and in China since the Celtics let him go. He played 13 games in two stints with Fort Wayne in the D-League, interrupted by an 11-game stint with Xinjiang in China.

The Mavericks had two roster spots after sending Andrew Bogut and Justin Anderson to Philadelphia in a deal for Nerlens Noel and waiving guard Deron Williams.