Power Rankings: Win Streak Moves Blazers Into Top Five

by Casey Holdahl
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It's been a while since we last checked in on where you're Portland Trail Blazers stand in the weekly NBA Power Rankings with a little over a month left in the regular season. As you might imagine, thanks to winning six straight and eight of their last nine heading into Monday night's contest versus the Lakers at Staples Center, the Trail Blazers find themselves near the top this week, both in terms of the Power Rankings and the current Western Conference standings.

Granted, nothing is close to decided with just four games seperating third place and 10th place in the West with 20 games to play, but as of right now, the Trail Blazers are in the driver's seat for the three-seed, and their rankings this week reflect that.

Onto the rankings...

• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 5 this week, two spots better than last week...

Look out for the Trail Blazers, who have won their past six games. The biggest reason? Their defense: Portland has allowed 98.1 points per 100 possessions during the winning streak, best in the NBA over that span.

ESPN has the Trail Blazers behind the Celtics at No. 4 and ahead of the Cavaliers at No. 6.

• John Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 4 this week, which is also a two-spot improvement over last week...

Pace: 99.0 (18) OffRtg: 105.5 (16) DefRtg: 104.2 (7) NetRtg: +1.2 (13)

A six-game winning streak has put the Blazers in good position to begin the playoffs at home, where they've won 13 of their last 14 games, with seven of the 13 wins coming against teams that currently have winning records. They lead the league defensively since the All-Star break, having held each of their five opponents under a point per possession. The defense (which has risen back to seventh in the league after falling to 11th prior to the break) has been at its best with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor. He ranks as one of the league's best high volume rim protectors and the Blazers have allowed just 20 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field (an opponent free throw rate which would lead the league) with him on the floor.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 3 and ahead of the Celtics at No. 5.

• David Aldridge, also of NBA.com, has the Trail Blazers at No. 5 this week, an 11-spot improvement over last week...

Rookie Zach Collins starting to get more consistent burn at center as the Blazers have gone up like a rocket in the West.

Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Celtics at No. 4 and ahead of the Thunder at No. 6.

• Rohan Nadkarni at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 4 this week, five spots better than last week...

Meanwhile, the Blazers have won six in a row and entered Week 21 with the fifth-best record in the league. This is a surprising development for a team that struggled for much of the early season. And shockingly, Portland’s success stems more from its No. 7 defense then its No. 16 offense. That’s right, the Blazers are scoring on par with the Hornets and Celtics but defending only 0.8 points per possession worse than the Warriors. Portland’s net rating would indicate the team has room to improve, but the Blazers are peaking at the right time.

Nadkarni has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 3 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 5.

• Chris Barnewall at CBSSports.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 4, two spots better than last week...

Damian Lillard is going to get a deserved amount of All-NBA hype thanks to what he's been doing this season. He's improved as a defender and has carried a Portland offense that struggled for much of the season. This has been arguably the best season of his career.

Barnewall has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 3 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 5.

• The panel of voters at USA Today has the Trail Blazers at No. 5 this week, five spots better than last week...

After an up-and-down first few months of the season, it appears as though Portland is finally over the hump. The Blazers — who own the NBA's best defensive rating (98.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) during their current six-game winning streak — are all the way up to third place in the West.

USA Today has the Trail Blazers behind the Celtics at No. 4 and ahead of the Cavaliers at No. 6.

• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on March 2, has the Trail Blazers at No. 7, which is seven spots better than their previous ranking...

Damian Lillard should bottle his recently completed February and take a little sip any time he's feeling sluggish.

He averaged 31.4 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting from the field, surging to the finish with 40 points (and a game-winner) against the Suns on Saturday before hitting the Kings for 26 points and a dozen dimes in Tuesday's much less dramatic 116-99 walkover.

"This is the best place I think we've been in years," Lillard told reporters after the Kings win. "But my thing is just to continue to be that, continue to push in the right direction. We can't be satisfied with where we are or what we've been doing."

The Portland Trail Blazers went into the break with an impressive win over Golden State, and they've collected five straight victories en route to a season-best mark of 10 games over .500.

Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Cavaliers at No. 6 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 8.