Belinelli starting to find his comfort zone


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.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here:

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

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This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”