BUBBLE POWER RANKINGS » A Range Of Emotions In Week 2

by Casey Holdahl
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The second week of restart games in Orlando was a relatively successful one for the Portland Trail Blazers. Fading away down the stretch versus the Clippers on Saturday easily qualifies as Portland's biggest disappointment through six "seeding" games, but tallying wins versus the Rockets, Nuggets and 76ers to put themselves in position to potentially move up into eighth, and thus, securing an easier path to the postseason, helps to ease the pain of missing two free throws late versus L.A.

And with at least two games to play this week and four teams -- the Grizzlies, Spurs, Suns and Trail Blazers -- fighting for one playoff spot, the end of the regular season in the bubble is likely to play out like it does seemingly every year in the West, with the playoff table still to be determined until the end of the final game. In this case, that finale will be the Trail Blazers facing the Nets on Thursday at 6 p.m. 

With Moving Day set for later this week, here's where the Trail Blazers come out in the second edition of the NBA Bubble Power Rankings...

• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, two spots better than last week...

Two uncharacteristic missed free throws from Damian Lillard on Saturday cost the Blazers the game against the Clippers, but he bounced back about an hour later on Instagram with a vicious clapback. Then he followed that up with 51 points against the 76ers on Sunday to keep the Blazers in position for the play-in series. Lillard is as cool and collected as they come, but there might be no better player at talking the talk and walking the walk than him. There are two games left this week, against the Mavs and Nets, to settle step one -- getting in the play-in.

The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 11 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 13.

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 14, one spot better than last week...

Pace: 101.1 (13) OffRtg: 112.8 (5) DefRtg: 114.0 (27) NetRtg: -1.2 (19)

The Blazers control their own destiny. If they win their games on Tuesday and Thursday, they'll be in the play-in series over the weekend. They've had the No. 1 offense in the restart, scoring more than 120 points per 100 possessions over their six games. Damian Lillard scored 45 points and dished out 12 assists against the Nuggets on Thursday, and then he went off for 51 (including 18 in the fourth quarter) against Philly on Sunday.

Of the four teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the West, this is probably the one the Lakers would least like to face. The Nuggets (who rested their best healthy guys in the fourth quarter against Portland on Thursday) and the Clippers (who rested Kawhi Leonard and sat Paul George for the final five minutes against Portland on Saturday) clearly think so.

But the Blazers haven't exactly taken the bubble by storm. They got a good win against Houston on Tuesday, holding the league's second-ranked offense to just a point per possession. But their other three wins are ...

• An overtime victory over the Grizzlies, who are 1-5 in the restart.

• A 10-point win over Denver in a game that they trailed with less than six minutes left. The Nuggets who were on the floor for those final six minutes include PJ Dozier, Keita Bates-Diop and somebody named Tyler Cook.

• A three-point win over the Sixers, who were without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (for all but the first six minutes).

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 13 and ahead of the Suns at No. 15.

• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 7 this week, seven spots better than last week...

The only game the Blazers lost this week was the one the Clippers were seemingly trying to lose on purpose, but we quickly found out what happens when you make Damian Lillard mad. Patrick Beverley mocked Lillard for missing two clutch free throws, and the very next night Lillard dropped 51 points in a win over the Sixers. Portland now trails the Grizzlies by a half-game, with the ability to get the No. 8 seed and therefore only need to beat the No. 9 seed once to get into the playoffs.

Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 6 and ahead of the Nuggets at No. 8.

• Corey Rausch at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, unchanged from last week...

The two stories of the Blazers for the week have to be Gary Trent, Jr. and Carmelo Anthony. Trent is shooting 62.2 percent (28-of-45) from long range and prompted Stan Van Gundy to call him the best shooter on the planet. Hyperbolic as that might be, he has been the spark off the bench the Blazers needed and an extra dimension to their team.

Anthony has not been his old All-Star self but he has given enough evidence that he still belongs in this league and can be relied on in the right situation. There is still sometimes a little too much isolation to his game but he is a valued member of this team. To all those who said he was washed before the season started, that crow must taste delicious.

Rausch has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 12 and ahead of the 76ers at No. 14.

• The staff at The Score have the Trail Blazers at No. 14 in this week’s rankings...

Jusuf Nurkic has looked incredible in his return from injury, and Carmelo Anthony has turned back the clock with some big clutch shots. If they sneak into the playoffs, the Blazers will be the lower seed that no contender wants to meet.

The folks at The Score have the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 13 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 15.

• Zach Harper at The Athletic has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, four spots better than last week...

Despite two almost unbelievable clutch free throw misses from Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers are still in great shape. The return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, along with the extended role for Gary Trent Jr., have transformed what was once a pretty anemic Blazers rotation. Now Lillard and CJ McCollum have a ton of help on both ends of the floor, allowing them to focus on carrying the offensive load. They have players who can counter adjustments by the defense, which they didn’t really have before. It was either Dame and CJ are superheroes, or they lose. And sometimes the superhero thing didn’t bring wins. Carmelo Anthony hitting clutch shots just makes them look so ready to snag the 8-seed.

Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 12 and ahead of the 76ers at No. 14.


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