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Bulls’ Belinelli getting comfortable in coach Thibodeau’s system

Chicago Bulls' Marco Belinelli (8) from Italy drives past ClevelCavaliers' Daniel Gibsan NBA basketball game Friday Nov. 2 2012 Cleveland.

Chicago Bulls' Marco Belinelli (8), from Italy, drives past Cleveland Cavaliers' Daniel Gibson in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

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Updated: December 7, 2012 6:19AM

A fadeaway from the baseline with a hand in his face.

A turnaround from well beyond the three-point line.

And then a smile on his face as he walked off the practice court Monday at the Berto Center — the last Bull to do so.

The Italian import finally was feeling comfortable.

“Maybe,’’ guard Marco Belinelli said when asked if finally playing for a team with high expectations was overwhelming him early in camp and into the preseason. “I’m not a rookie. I don’t want to use that as part of an excuse, but that’s part of the game. I know that this is a big team . . . so I’m just playing hard every game.’’

Not that he didn’t play hard for the Warriors, Raptors and Hornets the last two seasons, but those franchises aren’t the Bulls. Belinelli, 26, didn’t stay up late with his father and brothers in Italy to watch the Raptors. It was all about Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Then to come over as a free agent this offseason and practice under the shadow of six championship banners, every morning seemed to weigh him down.

He also was being asked to play at a defensive intensity that he
never had experienced, so it’s no wonder he looked lost at times during the preseason.

“Yes, sir, yes, sir,’’ he said when asked if this has been the most
defense crammed down his throat. “With Monty Williams [in New
Orleans], we played good defense, but I’ve never played defense like here in Chicago. We practice a lot, especially in training camp. It was like a one-hour practice, and the one hour was all on defense, so it’s been tougher for me. But everybody knows that if you want to play [for the Bulls], you’ve got to play defense. If you understand that, it’s easier.’’

And it has gotten easier. Belinelli is averaging nine points in 21 minutes through the first three games, and the Bulls went plus-7 with him on the floor in the season opener against the Kings, plus-11 against the Cavaliers and plus-5 in the loss Saturday against the Hornets.

“It’s how you play within your group, so [Belinelli’s] playmaking has been very good throughout the preseason and into the regular season,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “His shot will come around, and it has. Each game I think he’s gotten more comfortable. He’s a good basketball player. His defense is
improving, and that’s what I meant by the nights you’re not shooting well, there’s still other things you can do to help the team win.’’

That seems to be Belinelli’s only focus — winning. That’s why he has been the last guy off the floor after practices lately.

“People label [Belinelli] as just a catch-and-shoot guy, but he’s
actually better at making plays, setting guys up,’’ forward Luol Deng said. “The more comfortable he gets with the plays, he’ll do more of that.’’

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