CLEVELANDThis is how you know Marco Belinelli had a good night Tuesday: Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau subbed out Luol Deng, in the first quarter, in order to leave Belinelli, who scored 12 in the opening period and 23 on the evening, in the game.Marco, I thought, had a pretty good rhythm going and he had the hot hand, so we went the other way on that, Thibodeau said of his decision to put reserve swingman Jimmy Butler in the game for Deng, the NBAs minutes-per-game leader entering the evening, instead of Belinelli. I thought Marco was terrific.Hes been playing well. He had extended minutes, that was the biggest difference. I thought he played hard. He scored different ways, he got to the free-throw line, posted up, catch-and-shoot and I thought his teammates were searching him out, too, which was playing smart. You want to have a balance. You want to be inside-out, so we wanted to get our ball movement going. So, we felt that was the most important thing and hes a very good catch-and-shoot player, so we tried to play off that some, continued the coach, before delving into why he believed the Italian free-agent acquisition would eventually break out of his early-season slump. Because of what hes done in the league. You have an idea because hes already proven that, so you know that its a matter of time and I think that each day and each game hes gotten more comfortable, so I thought he played very, very well.Belinellis teammates also never wavered about the backup shooting guards ability, despite his woes in adjusting to a new system.I think it was huge. Even in the beginning of the year, hes somebody who works really hard on his game and never got discouraged, kept playing hard and you see that as a player, Joakim Noah said. As somebody whos passionate about the game, Im happy that its paying off for him.Deng added: Its really good. Marco played great tonight. First quarter, came out, he was aggressive, stayed aggressive, made some big plays. But we knew Marco could play. Hes been struggling a little bit finding his rhythm and hopefully this will help him find his rhythm until Rip comes back.When he comes off the bench, hell be comfortable with what hes doing and now hes getting more minutes.Belinelli himself attempted to deflect all the attention he was getting and instead focused on the team getting back to winning.It was a good game for us, he said. I think we played a great first quarter and we played together on offense and defense. I think thats whats important, especially after the game yesterday. It was a tough loss for us, so winning a game like tonight was important for everybody.It was good tonight, Belinelli continued. My teammates were ready to find me, so that was good. Just continuing this way. Its important for us to play together like tonight, run on fast breaks, try to score each basket and play good defense.I think it was important for me, he went on to say. First of all, just working, working and working.New team, new organization for us, for me especially, so just be ready to play, be aggressive every time. Thats the way that weve got to play. Tough, tough, tough.As for Deng, he still ended up logging over 42 minutes of playing time, but the All-Star felt that the early breather helped him, especially coming in a back-to-back contest. A 22-point scorer on the night, the ironman used his rare time on the sidelines to crack wise.When I went and sat on the bench, watching the game, I just told the guys, So this is what you all do at this time? No, but it was cool, he said. I think Coach realized that it was a tough game last night, I played a lot of minutes and quick turnaround. So, he realized that, gave me a quick rest early and that actually helped me a lot.
Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?
“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.
The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.
This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.
Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.
“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”
Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.
“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.
“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”
Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.
“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.
“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.
“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”
Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.
The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.
“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.
“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”
Sports Talk Live is on location at the Brickhouse Tavern at Wrigley Field to get you set for Game 3 of the NLCS. David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Jesse Rogers (ESPNChicago.com) and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) join Kap on the panel.
Plus, Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson drop by to talk about the big matchup.
Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: