POWER RANKINGS » Up And Down After Week 2
For whatever reasons, opinions about teams this season seem to varying widely from game to game based on results. Win and you're on the primrose path to the championship, lose and the entire thing should be blown up posthaste. Whether that's a function of so many blowouts in the first few weeks of the season, the effects of spending much of the last nine months dealing with the stress of a pandemic, the toxic nature of social media or something else entirely, who is to say. But it's noticeable across much of the NBA landscape.
The same can be said for the Portland Trail Blazers. One on hand, they've looked good at times, especially in road wins versus the defending champion Lakers and the Warriors. But on the other, such as in losses to the Clippers and Warriors, they look as if they're a long ways away from being the team many thought they'd be after a number of significant offseason trades and signings. They have not yet shown themselves to be an improved defensive team, so complaints and concerns on that front are valid from a night-to-night basis, but opinions about everything else seem almost solely based on how the team played in the prior 48 minutes.
Which also helps explain the wide-range of opinions in the latest edition of the weekly Power Rankings. There's no real consensus, as evidenced by an 11-spot difference between their highest and lowest rankings, but when you consider that only eight teams are currently better than two games over .500, the lack of a clear order is understandable. Like they say: that's why they play the game.
So here's how the Trail Blazers shake out in the weekly rankings six games into their 72-game season...
• The panel of voters at ESPN have the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, one spot better than last week...
It has been an up and down two weeks for the Blazers, but there wasn't much they could do about Sunday's game against the Warriors. After beating them in San Francisco two days earlier, they played Golden State again and watched Steph Curry go supernova with 62. The Blazers' bench is a question, particularly on the defensive end, with heavy minutes for Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter. But one thing that has been a bright spot to open the season is CJ McCollum's aggressive play. A notorious slow starter, McCollum has come out of the gates hot.
The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Hawks at No. 11 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 13.
• John Shuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 16 this week, a four-spot improvement from last week...
Pace: 101.5 (15) OffRtg: 111.8 (8) DefRtg: 115.7 (28) NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
Just think: CJ McCollum (28.0 points per game) and Damian Lillard (26.3) are both in the top 10 in scoring, and they never get to play against the Blazers’ defense. Before Stephen Curry got them for 62 on Sunday, Lillard (34 points) and McCollum (28) tore up the Warriors’ defense two nights earlier. McCollum remains a mid-range assassin, but he’s seen a big jump in the percentage of his shots that have come from beyond the arc (38% last season to 49% this season). He’s made 43% of his attempts and had one Lillard-esque, pull-up bomb on Friday.
More 3-pointers are needed, because the Blazers’ defense has now allowed two of the four highest scoring games of the season (McCollum has one of the other two) and ranks last in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (63.7%).
The Blazers are home for 10 of their next 12 games, with only two one-game trips to Sacramento over the next 24 days. That stretch is pretty soft in regard to opponent strength as well, so if they fancy themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference, this is their time to rack up some wins.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Heat at No. 15 and ahead of the Nets at No. 17.
• Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports has the Trail Blazers up at No. 11 this week, which is eight spots better than last week...
Portland picked up an impressive win over the Lakers Monday and blew out the Warriors Friday, but suffered a bad loss to the Clippers and watched Steph Curry drop 62 points on them Sunday. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum continue to assert their dominance offensively, but they've been unable to get consistent help around them. The healthy return of Gary Trent Jr. and Carmelo Anthony should help in that department, but the defense is where the real strides need to be made.
Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Nuggets at No. 10 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 12.
• Zach Harper at The Athletic has Portland at No. 15 this week, two spots worse than last week...
Poise or Panic? Poise with a dash of panic. Losing to Utah or the Clippers this season? Not a big deal. Beating the Lakers? That’s a great win. Torching Golden State? It’s happening a lot these days. Getting lit up for 62 by Steph Curry? It’s defensible because of his greatness, but that’s a bad loss by Portland because its defense is not very good right now. Everything is sloppy and this isn’t a squad built to force turnovers or get a lot of deflections. The Blazers still need time to gel like plenty of teams, but this effort to stop opponents from making shots is rough.
Why rank them here? They were 11th before the loss to the Warriors. That was bad enough to throw them down a few spots to right in the middle of these rankings.
Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Rockets at No. 14 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 16.
• Michael Shapiro at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 18 this week, five spots worse than last week...
Robert Covington was a terrific addition for the Rockets in an abbreviated stint last season, though his production thus far in Portland leaves a lot to be desired. Covington is averaging a paltry six points per game, and his turnover generation has seen a significant dip compared to his small-ball heights in Houston. Covington isn’t a knock-down shooter by any stretch. Damian Lillard doesn’t generate wide-open triples quite like Harden. It’s been a tough adjustment thus far, and it’s worth considering whether Portland is the best fit for Covington moving forward.
It's been six games. Also, Covington shot 31 percent from three with the Rockets and is shooting 28 percent from three for the Trail Blazers. I know it's hard to write something about all 30 teams but good grief. Their defense has been bad, just stick to the hits.
Shapiro has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 17 and ahead of the Raptors at No. 19.
• The folks up north at The Score have the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, four spots worse than their last ranking...
Carmelo Anthony's decreasing role is a good sign for the Trail Blazers, who have benefited from the recruitments of Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., and the emergence of bubble breakout Gary Trent Jr.
The panel at The Score has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 10 and ahead of the Nuggets at No. 13.
• Corey Rausch at Fansided has the Trail Blazers at No. 7 this week, three spots better than last week...
The Portland Trail Blazers seem to have only figured out one side of the ball so far. As expected, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are explosive scorers and there are few teams who can keep up with them alone.
The defense is a whole other issue. Derrick Jones Jr. has been a noticeable positive on that side of the court so far, which should tell you all you need to know. The rest of the roster needs to be at least passable for them to eventually have a chance at title contention. Robert Covington has the potential to right some of those wrongs but has not been a picture of consistency in this short season.
A win against the reigning champions does plenty good, however. Just ask the LA Clippers, who saw a noticeable bump last week after a similar victory. The Los Angeles Lakers look nigh unbeatable on most nights so the fact that the Blazers were able to upend them semi-comfortably is noteworthy.
On a sour note, the continued Zach Collins injury saga is such a bummer. The potential is clear for the young big man but following another surgery (this time a revision on a previous stress fracture) his days in Rip City may be numbered. He is out indefinitely and only appeared in 11 games a season ago.
Rausch has the Trail Blazers behind the Hawks at No. 6 and ahead of the Clippers at No. 8.
• Brad Rowland at UPROXX has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, four spots worse than last week...
The most recent result for the Blazers featured Steph Curry scoring 62 points on them and putting on quite a show. In the previous game, Portland smacked Golden State by 25 points. Good luck trying to figure that sequence out, but we do know that Portland’s defense has been problematically poor to this point, and that is a real concern.
Rowland has the Trail Blazers behind the Nets at No. 9 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 10.