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Terry Stotts proud of inserting Pat Connaughton into starting lineup

Pat Connaughton

The Portland Trail Blazers have regained their groove in the last eight days, as a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last week was enough to shake this team that has now won seven of its last nine games, including the last three.

The Blazers looked helpless against the Sixers, as C.J. McCollum struggled through a career-worst 1-of-14 performance from the field and Damian Lillard complained about lack of foul calls after shooting three free throws through the entire game.

If that wasn’t enough, small forward Moe Harkless told reporters about his discontent with only attempting one shot the entire game, disappointed with how the game was dominated by the All-Star backcourt and center Jusuf Nurkic, without getting role players involved.

That rant was enough for coach Terry Stotts to pull the plug, yanking Harkless from the small forward spot and inserting Pat Connaughton into the starting lineup.

The results? — three wins in a row and an increasing role for a more reliable shooter, providing further scoring options for his backcourt to flourish.

“The best thing is our offense is kind of kicking back into gear,” Stotts said of the Blazers’ last eight days, according to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. “I thought we made a lot of good reads. I thought we moved well without the ball, made good passes, whether it’s to the roll guy or swing pass for a three… the tempo that we’re playing with. I thought there were a lot of good things.”

Connaughton’s minutes have picked up since his 15-minute start against the Brooklyn Nets, getting 37 minutes in a bar-measuring win against the Washington Wizards and 26 against the New York Knicks on Monday.

“I think he’s done well,” Stotts said of Connaughton. “He plays with a lot of confidence and he’s a very smart player. I think, offensively, it goes beyond making shots. He makes hard cuts, he makes team plays. … His role is to be a role player. He complements the players he’s out there with. He did that when he was coming off the bench and he’s doing that as a starter. He doesn’t make many mistakes. So, to me, it’s a perfect role for him right now.”

Lillard went as far as to call him the MVP of this recent East Coast road trip.

“It’s not a fluke,” Lillard said. “I think that’s what I like the most. This is who he is. He’s going to go out there, he’s going to take the right shots, you know he’s going to be in the right spots defensively, he’s going to be a great teammate. He’s going to do what the team needs him to do. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him, from our coaches to everybody on our team. We just know what we’re going to get from him. I think the more time he’s out there, the more you guys are going to see how capable he is. And he’s been huge for our team.”

Though not as athletic as Harkless, Connaughton’s three-point acumen could play to the strengths of the Blazers and relieve some of the pressure off Lillard and McCollum as the only two options to hit from deep in the starting lineup.