Belinelli starting to find his comfort zone

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Belinelli starting to find his comfort zone

DEERFIELD, ILL.Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was prophetic before his teams home loss Saturday night to New Orleans. Faced with a question about backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli, Thibodeau expressed his confidence in the free-agent acquisition ability, something the hard-driving coach consistently does with the media when asked about a players struggles.
Marcos getting better and better. I think more confident, more comfortable each day. Hes gotten better, more comfortable putting the ball on the floor, making plays for people, he said. I think his defense is coming around. Hes been around a long time. Im confident that hes going to play well.
Belinelli, playing against his old team, the Hornets, responded with his best game of the young season. The native of Bologna, Italy, notched 13 pointson 4-for-10 shooting, including 2-for-6 from three-point rangebut importantly, he played with confidence and like he was sure of himself, something the team needed with starter Rip Hamilton struggling.
Although the contest ended in the Bulls first defeat of the campaign, slowly, but surely, Belinelli is starting to resemble the player the organization expected when they signed him over the summer. A shooter, no doubt, but more than that, a player capable of creating his own shot, making plays for others and offering an offensive boost off the bench, while steadily improving as a defensive player.
Throughout most of the preseason, that player wasnt present, as Belinelli himself readily admitted, his transparency being a trait most professional athletes dont have when talking about their issues on the floor. But hes worked through it and starting with a seven-point in the Bulls preseason finale win over the Pacers in South Bend, Ind., Bellinelli has started to make more overt contributions to the teams success.
He scored six points, to go along with three assists, in the season-opening win over Sacramento, then put up eight points in Fridays blowout victory against Cleveland. But Saturday, while he wasnt perfectlike many of his teammates, Belinellis play tailed off a bit in the second half of the lossBelinelli played with a looseness, freedom and aggressiveness befitting of a six-year pro revered in his home country as one of the best basketball players in recent memory.
Even though we lost one against the Hornets, I played better than the two games before, but I was so mad because we lost that game. Its part of the game, Belinelli said after Mondays practice at the Berto Center. The game against New Orleans, I scored the first layup on a two-on-one fast break, so after that, my confidence was up. So, I started to make three-point shots from the corner, a good pass for Gibson. When its like that, my confidence is up.
Yeah, I think so. I didnt score well against the Hornets, continued Belinelli, who acknowledged that he had some extra motivation in facing his former team. I can be better than that, so I just want to work every day on that and like I said before, I think its important to win games, especially now that weve got four or five home games. So, we need to take advantage of that.
I remember the first couple games of preseason, I was little bit maybe nervous or maybe not ready to play, but thats the past, so I want to be ready for the season. I want to be ready to help this team win games.
Fair or not, Belinelli was widely billed as the successor to the departed Kyle Korver, one of the NBAs elite shooters. While Belinelli has been a relatively high-percentage marksman from beyond the arc during his career, he isnt considered as automatic as Korver, though hes more athletic and possesses better ball skills.
But just as Korver had to adjust to Thibodeaus demands on the defensive end of the floor, Belinelli has also had to change his mindset. Playing for defensive-minded Hornets head coach Monty Williams in New Orleans gave him a bit of a leg up after starting his NBA career with two notoriously bad defensive squads in Golden State and Toronto, but he still has a learning curve.
Yes, sir, he answered, when asked about the Bulls high standards on that end of the court. Last year, with Monty Williams, we played good defense, I think. But I never played defense like here in Chicago. We practice it a lot, especially in training camp. It was like one hour on defense, so it was a little bit tough for me, but at the same time, everybody knows that if you want to play, youve got to play defense, so if you understand that, itll be easier.
Its not the first time for me. Ive changed a lot of teams, added the affable shooting guard, who speaks good English, but sent the assembled media at the Berto Center into gales of laughter when he misunderstood a question about the quality of Chicagos Italian food compared to where it originates, his birthplace. I just need to be ready and be focused on the parts of the game, on offense and defense. Ive started to understand all the players.
As for Thibodeau, now that Belinelli has shown signs of getting back to his old selfof course, a new element of high-intensity defense will have to be incorporated; if Korver can transform himself into a serviceable individual defender and solid as a team defender, so can Belinelli, who moves better than the current Atlanta Hawkhe can now mix in some criticism with his encouragement, though hell continue to give the newcomer every opportunity to succeed, perhaps in part to be able to keep Hamiltons minutes down, in lieu of the veterans injury-plagued campaign a year ago, as well as manufacturing some offensive firepower off the bench and a weapon to stretch opposing defenses for a team lacking multiple long-distance threats.
Its how you play within your group and so, his playmaking has been very good throughout preseason and through the regular season, and his shot will come around and it has, so each game, I think hes gotten more comfortable. Hes a good basketball player, I think his defense is improving and thats what I meant by the nights youre not shooting well, the coach explained Monday. Theres still a number of things you can do to help the team win. I thought our rebounding in the second half against New Orleans was very poor and if youre not shooting well, you certainly should rebound well and you certainly should get back in defensive transition. Those are things that you control with your effort and your concentration, so those are things youve got to take care of.
Chimed in teammate Luol Deng: Right now, hes in here shooting with Bulls assistant coach Ron Adams, known around the league as a premier shooting guru. Hes been doing a lot of that. It happens and hes going to come out of that slump or he has already, but hes a good player and he makes plays. Marcos not just a shooter. A lot of people label him as just a catch-and-shoot guy, but hes better at making plays and setting guys up, and you can see that here and there. But I think the more comfortable he gets with the plays and what were trying to do, hell do more of that.
Compounding Belinellis early woes was the fact that for the first time since he arrived in the NBA from Italy, where he experienced team success, hes on a winning team. After only sniffing the postseason oncehis debut season in New Orleans, when the Hornets took the top-seeded Lakers to six games in the first round of the 2011 playoffsthe pressure of playing a key role on a perennial playoff squad gave him some anxiousness.
Maybe, it can be a part of that, but Im not a rookie. I dont want to use that as an excuse. Thats part of the game, he revealed. This is a big team. We want to be big, we want to win. Everybody knows that. I know that, so play hard every game and just win the game.
If he maintains that mentality, hell fit right in on the Bulls. As long as his defensive effort remains consistent, thats all Thibodeau requires.

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

If the Lions beat the Bears in Detroit, it'd be a recent rarity. No, not the Bears losing, but in this long series that reaches 175 games Sunday. One team or the other has swept the season series 11 of the last 12 years (the lone exception being 2011). The 17-14 Bears win Oct. 2 ended a string of six consecutive losses to their division rivals. At that point, both clubs were 1-3. The Bears have remained at that pace since, while the Lions have taken off, winning seven of eight.

It was Brian Hoyer's steady hand that guided that win, while a Vic Fangio defense missing Eddie Goldman, Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan forced Matthew Stafford into easily his worst game of the season.

1. STAY COMMITTED

That first meeting was Jordan Howard's first start, and his first 100-yard game, and the rook ran it 23 times for the first of five 100-yard rushing efforts (113). And since the two Bears touchdowns were scored by a couple of players who won't suit up Sunday (Eddie Royal and Zach Miller, from a quarterback who also won't be suiting up), keep feeding the beast. He's 117 yards from reaching the 1,000-yard mark (after just a dozen carries the first three games), and another 100-yard effort would give him the most for a rookie in Bears franchise history.

2. A FASTER START FOR MATT

...meaning Barkley, not Stafford. The Bears want to avoid a faster start by Stafford and the home offense, which was held to just one first down and 14 total plays on their first four possessions back in October. As Barkley makes his first NFL road start in a dome, he and his offensive teammates need to get out of the gate quicker than they have the last two home games. Before they got things rolling on the final drive of the first half against the San Francisco 49ers, they had four possessions that totaled 14 plays, 27 net yards and two first downs. In Barkley's first start two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, they surrounded one 13-play touchdown drive in the opening half with five possessions, totaling 16 plays, 108 yards, three first downs, and an interception.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

3. HOO-RATIO

The Bears have lost the turnover battle in eight of their 12 games, and just twice have they won it. One of those instances was in Week 4. For a team that has just five interceptions all year, against a quarterback who's thrown just five picks, two came in the first meeting on the lakefront. And those picks were by (....wait for it....) Deiondre Hall (the rookie who'll play for the first time since that game), and Jacoby Glenn, who's now back on the practice squad. Now, yes, Stafford is a different beast in his den, and there's a completely different confidence level now for the NFC North leaders. But what if the defense can pull an encore? And can Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks pick up where they left off against another mobile quarterback? The Bears had just two sacks in the first meeting, registered by (....wait for it....) Mitch Unrein and Cornelius Washington.

** Finish up your snow removal by 11 a.m. Plop yourself in front of CSN, and watch ex-Bears Lance Briggs, Jim Miller and Alex Brown join Chris for Bears Pregame Live. Then as soon as the second quarter ends on CBS, log on here to CSNChicago.com as Jim and Chris break down the first 30 minutes and go over second half adjustments on Bears Halftime Live. Finally, as soon as the team's start sharing handshakes, flip back to CSN as the three ex-Bears and Chris provide 90 minutes of reaction, analysis, press conferences and locker room interviews from Detroit on Bears Postgame Live. **

Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN

Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN

The Bears and Detroit Lions square off Sunday at noon and CSN Chicago has you covered along the way.

Check out a schedule of Sunday's events:

— Meijer Bears Pregame Live with Chris Boden, Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller airs at 11 a.m. on CSN.

— Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Bears Halftime Live streaming live on CSNChicago.com and ChicagoBears.com.

— State Farm Bears Postgame Live airing immediately after the game on CSN.

Important Twitter follows:

— John "Moon" Mullin (@CSNMoonMullin), CSNChicago

— Bears Talk (@CSNBears), CSNChicago

— Kip Lewis (@CSNKipLewis), CSNChicago

— Chris Boden (@CSNBoden), CSNChicago