The Trail Blazers won their third game and improved to 7-3 in their last 10 games after taking care of business on Wednesday night and beating the Chicago Bulls 124-112.
The Blazers biggest lead was 19.
The biggest question mark, though -- What is going to happen with Maurice Harkless, who was out with left knee sorness, which in turn means, what is going to happen with the Trail Blazers’ rotation?
With Harkless out Wednesday night that meant Nik Stauskas was back in the rotation after not playing in the last three games.
In his 16 minutes of action, Stauskas shot 3-of-4 from the floor to score eight points to go along with his three assists and three rebounds.
Stauskas credited the flow of the second unit after getting back out there.
“I think the ball was moving from side to side… we were able to get a couple stops out there…it was good player movement, we had a lot of cutting off the ball, we executed our plays well and guys were making shots,” Stauskas said.
This is talked about all the time -- You have to “stay ready” when you drop out of the rotation, but Stauskas knows how to do this all too well.
“I’ve been doing it for five straight years now… So pretty routine for me. It’s not always fun, it’s not always easy. I’ve been around with a number of different teams now so I know how it goes. When you fall out of the rotation it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re out of the rotation forever. It just means you gotta wait for things to change, you gotta wait for your opportunity and whenever it comes you just have to stay ready…. It’s more just mental, It’s more just continuing to believe in yourself, continue to stay positive, continue to encourage your teammates and be happy for their success," Stauskas said.
“Those are the toughest things because you just tend to look at yourself and ‘ah, I’m not playing’ and you can get negative real quick so for me its about just staying positive and bringing great energy every day,” Stauskas added.
The 25-year-old shooting guard has played for a total of four different teams and is now in his fifth season. This season with the Blazers, Stauskas is averaging 6.2 points in 38 games played.
Overall it was a big night for the Blazers’ bench in Wednesday’s win. Portland’s second unit outscored the Bulls’ bench 59-41. The Blazers’ bench was led by Seth Curry’s 17 points, while Zach Collins added 16.
Curry gave props to Stauskas for staying ready.
“Nik was great. He was active on both ends. He did a good job defensively. He knocked down shots and that’s what we need from him… He was ready to play. He continued to work on his game even when he didn’t get minutes the past few games. He was just a professional,” Curry said.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts mentioned after the game that Stauskas had a great practice on Tuesday and Stauskas seconded that.
“I just hadn’t been in the rotation the last couple games and I was playing some one-on-one with the rooks, Anferee and Gary, just trying to make sure I’m staying ready, staying sharp and whatnot. Anytime you’re not playing you’re just trying to stay ready and keep your skills sharp, keep your conditioning up and whatnot…Coach watched practice yesterday, so maybe he liked what he was seeing and he trusted me today…glad he did,” Stauskas said.
Coach Stotts is not the only who has been taken notice of Stauskas and the Blazers' bench. Portland’s team captain Damian Lillard knows how important it is to get the Blazers’ role players playing with confidence.
“We had a lot of guys come in and play well and it’s good to just get guys feeling good about themselves and playing confident and going out there and doing it in a game. The more we can get those type of efforts out of guys and have guys believe that they can do it, the better off we will be as a group,” Lillard said.
Stotts said there has not been a plan put in place of how the Blazers will proceed with Harkless’ knee issues. Harkless has played in just 26 games this season.
One thing is for sure though; the Blazers can count on Stauskas to put in the work in case his name is called.
“I always try to put in extra work. But just in the case where I wasn’t playing…not just shooting more, but trying to like compete. Play some one-on-one, run up and down a little bit just so you get that conditioning part of things. I feel like that’s the most important part when you’re not playing,” Stauskas added.
Next man up.
Always stay ready.
Be a pro.
Pick your cliché but Blazers fans can rest easy knowing that a knock-down shooter in Stauskas is always ready.