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.

Cubs ring in Cinco de Mayo with a mariachi band in the clubhouse

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Cubs ring in Cinco de Mayo with a mariachi band in the clubhouse

You could hear the Cubs clubhouse well before walking into the new state-of-the-art facility.

On Cinco de Mayo, of course Joe Maddon's Cubs would have a live mariachi band - complete with a Cubs jersey - performing as players geared up for a showdown with the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

What were you expecting - Maddon wearing a sombrero?

"I can confirm I won't be wearing a sombrero in the dugout," Maddon joked before Thursday's game.

Fresh off their "Minimalist Zany" suit trip that included a sweep of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs are feeling themselves quite a bit, so the mariachi band actually fit right in.

Plus, it made for a pregame moment Maddon said he'll remember forever.

"I was partially serenaded in the video room," Maddon said. "They were really good. My favorite moment was their solid rendition of 'Tequila' that was resonating throughout the entire clubhouse. 

"It's something I'll probably never forget - hearing a mariachi band playing 'Tequila' and your boys really participating pregame. That was kinda fun."

Maybe if the Cubs win Thursday, they'll celebrate with shots of Patrón.

Here's to hoping they dump the contents of a margarita machine onto a players' head during the CSN postgame interview. It'll be just like the "slime" on Nickelodeon.

White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

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White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

He has been described as a pain in the ass, one of a kind, a great hitter and RBI man and a dynamic player, one they’d love to never face again.

Yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the White Sox clubhouse who thinks baseball will be better off without David Ortiz, who is playing in his final regular season at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday night.

Ortiz, who homered for the Boston Red Sox and drove in three runs in a Wednesday night victory, announced before the season that 2016 would be his final one. Prior to Thursday’s contest, the White Sox presented Ortiz with cigars and a humidor as a retirement gift.

“I personally believe there will never be another one like him,” White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro said. “He was literally out of baseball and then he figured stuff out, he did it and he’s been nothing but wonderful to the game.”

Ortiz has been one of the sport’s most popular figures for nearly a decade — unless you’re an opposing pitcher. Carlos Rodon learned on Wednesday night what Ortiz, 40, can do to mistake fastballs, a lesson previously learned by 508 pitching victims.

Somehow, White Sox closer David Robertson has never surrendered a homer to Ortiz despite facing him 15 times in his career. Robertson has got the best of a majority of their meetings, holding Ortiz to a .214/.267/.286 slash line with only three hits in 14 at-bats. But it doesn’t make it easier when they do battle, Robertson said.

“He’s been a pain in the ass,” Robertson said. “He’s been that powerful left-handed bat that you just don’t want to see late in the game. He’s been an exceptional hitter who’s smart in the box. He’s just a deadly threat every time he comes to the plate.

“I just feel like it’s a dog fight every time I face him. He knows everything I’ve got and I know where he can hit it. I hope I come out on top.”

White Sox reliever Zach Duke has only faced Ortiz three times. But he knows the book on Ortiz and has even more respect after “Big Papi” dribbled a run-scoring single through a vacated hole in the White Sox shift on Wednesday night for an insurance run. Duke could see that Ortiz wanted to hit the ball to the left side earlier in the at-bat. So the left-hander tried to get a fastball inside on Ortiz’s quick hands and the slugger still managed to get inside of the pitch enough to bounce it into left field.

“He’s going to take what you give him in those situations because he wants the RBI,” Duke said. “He’s got that kind of ability to exploit whatever defenses give him. I could tell he was trying to do it on the breaking ball before it, he was even trying to shoot that the other way. I’m like ‘All right, I need to give him the heater’ and he got inside of that still. Tip my hat.”

But the bat is only part of Ortiz’s lure.

He’s not just a great player, one who has helped the Red Sox win three World Series titles. Players think Ortiz is a fantastic spokesperson and ambassador for baseball because he clearly enjoys the game and it shows.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed with that assessment, noting baseball is better off in part because of Ortiz.

“He’s been a dynamic player, another case for a (designated hitter) who’s going to make it into the Hall of Fame because he’s had such an impact on every game he’s been in, in the lineup, where he’s at, playoff games, clutch moments,” Ventura said. “All those things and the Boston Strong thing. He can speak, too. He’s had a lot of important moments in Boston. It transcends a lot of things in our game.

“He means a lot of things to a lot of people.”

Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

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Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

A few hundred feet away from a White Sox clubhouse in which players are somewhat confused by baseball’s new second base sliding rule, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred preferred to focus on the positives of the edict put in place prior to the 2016 season. 

After Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang and New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada both suffered serious injuries on takeout slides last year, MLB added a rule that stipulates players must make a “bona fide” effort to slide into, not around or past, second base. Intentionally grabbing a player’s leg to disrupt a throw is now illegal, as are late slides that take a player out of the baseline or past second base. 

The rule, in effect, is clear: “Just slide into the bag,” White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. 

But the implementation of it hasn’t been consistent. Last weekend in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, the White Sox thought they had a triple play turned when Manny Machado reached out and grabbed second baseman Brett Lawrie until it was a ruled clean slide. 

“I don’t feel like anybody has a feel on it, to be honest with you,” Lawrie said, explaining what happened to him at Camden Yards. “… Unfortunately, that goes against one of the points in the rule and when you don’t follow through with that, you tell everybody that, well, nobody really knows and you guys just don’t really get it yet.”

Lawrie’s gripe is that different umpires and review crews will have different gray areas for what’s acceptable at second base and what’s not. When the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista grabbed Tampa Bay Rays infielder Logan Forsythe’s leg on a ninth-inning double play attempt, a review determined Bautista’s actions violated the rule, and he was ruled out to end an early April game. That was the first high-profile instance of the new rule being enforced, and was one that resonated across major league clubhouses. It’s what Lawrie pointed to when discussing the non-call in Baltimore. 

Manfred understands the adjustment period for players and umpires regarding the rule. As was the case when MLB implemented its rule to cut down on collisions at home plate, there was bound to be some confusion for everyone in getting used to playing the game a different way. 

But Manfred doesn’t expect whatever problems do exist to last for long. 

“Whenever you change a rule with respect to the play of the game on the field, there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Manfred said. “There has certainly been one in respect to the slide rule, but I focus on the positive. Number one, I do think the rule serves a really important purpose and that is protecting players and I think even in the last couple of weeks, you see us getting more to the kind of equilibrium that we reached with respect to the home plate rule and quite frankly, we got there a little faster at second base than we did at home plate.”

Rollins, a 17-year major league veteran, similarly compared the second base rule to the home plate one and expressed optimism that the wrinkles of it will be ironed out in the future.

“We see a guy get called out for reaching across and grabbing a player and then it happens to us trying to turn a triple play and they interpret it as a clean slide when clearly (Machado) reached out and grabbed Brett,” Rollins said. “It’s like the home plate rule, there’s still a lot of things to work out. But the home plate rule, they said slide in and we’ll go look at it and hopefully get it right, and they eventually got that right. It’ll be the same thing at second.”