Chicago Blackhawks

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.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”