Belinelli hopes shooting slump is over

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Belinelli hopes shooting slump is over

SOUTH BEND, IND. For Marco Belinelli, the seven points he scored in Friday evenings Bulls win over the Pacers were more symbolic than anything else. Known as a sharpshooter over the course of his NBA career, the native of Italy has been mired in a slump the entire preseason.

So when he hit an improbable three-pointer to beat the shot clock in the first half of the exhibition finale the shooting guards first of the preseason it felt like a weight was lifted off his back. He would later go on to hit a contested fadeaway jumper out of the mid-post, then a layup off a sharp cut in the second half and played, at the least, determined defense.

This is a good team, so I just want to be the best player that I can be. But its important tonight to me that we won the game and I hope that were going to be ready for the first regular-season game, Belinelli said afterwards. I was really pissed off, especially when a shooter cant score the ball. Its terrible, but at the same time, I try to be positive, work on my shot and be ready to score the ball. Its important to me to go on the court and be real aggressive. Thats the most important thing.

I just tried to be more aggressive. I was watching the games, the last couple games that I didnt play real well, so I wasnt aggressive. That was one of my mistakes, so tonight, I went to the court, tried to be aggressive, take my shot, take the foul or do something for my teammates and be aggressive on defense. I think that tonight its important that we won the game and every day is better, he continued. That was crazy because I missed the first three-point shot when I was wide-open, but I scored a three-point shot that was crazy. But I think that was important for me, for my confidence, so for now, everythings going to be better.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau continues to insist that hes less concerned about Belinellis shooting than his overall play. Still, he has to be relieved that on a team without a plethora of outside marksmen, let alone defensive magnet Derrick Rose to attract attention, that Belinelli took a step in the right direction.

I dont think hes been playing poorly. I think he hasnt shot well so far. But he will. We know that. Hes already proven that. I think hes made several big plays off the dribble for us and defensively, hes improving each day, Thibodeau explained. He still has a long way to go, but hes got to be confident in his ability to play well on the nights on which he doesnt shoot the ball well and I think he can.

Belinelli hopes Friday was just the start of bigger and better things for him, as he adjusts to the best NBA team hes played for during his career. He admitted that hed been overly preoccupied with his errant shot.

Maybe thats why, because I didnt think too much. Maybe thats one of the reasons, he said. We played well. We passed the ball amazing, we played defense and tonight we took a lot of rebounds, so tonight, especially against this team, that was really important. Now, finally were going to start the season Wednesday.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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