Power Rankings: Back In The Top 10 In Week Eight

by Casey Holdahl
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After winning their last three games versus the Heat, Magic and Hornets, the Trail Blazers are assured of finishing another five-game road trip with a better than .500 record regardless of what happens in Monday night's game versus the Timberwolves at the Target Center (tipoff scheduled for 5 p.m. on NBC Sports NW and Rip City Radio 620 AM). While their record at home has been disappointing -- their last win at the Moda Center came a month ago, though they've only played at home four times during that stretch -- their surprising play on the road, especially on the defensive end, has allowed Portland to remain firmly in the playoff race roughly a third of the way through the regular season. And if they're able to string together some win at the Moda Center soon, they might even managed to start the new year in the top four of the Western Conference.

But even though they've struggled at home, they've managed to move back into the Top 10 in a number of the weekly Power Rankings thanks to their three-game winning streak and 9-5 record on the road. Observe...

• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 this week, six spots better than last week...

The Blazers have won three straight games, all on the road. They lead the league in defensive efficiency (99.0) and opponent field goal percentage (43 percent) on the road. They've effectively limited their opponents from the perimeter, allowing the fewest 3s (8.4) and attempts (24.4) per game away from Rip City.

The assumption was that the Trail Blazers would need to get fat off of early home games in order to compensate for a tough schedule to end the season, but with as good as they've been on the road so far this year, that doesn't seem to be as much of a concern.

The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Timberwolves at No. 7 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 9.

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com isn't as bullish about Portland's improvement, putting the Trail Blazers at No. 14 this week, which is still two spots better than last week...

Pace: 99.1 (15) OffRtg: 102.7 (21) DefRtg: 101.5 (4) NetRtg: +1.2 (11)

The Blazers are simply better on the road (9-5) than they are at home (7-8), especially defensively, where they've allowed 4.9 fewer points per 100 possessions away from the Moda Center after a pair of ugly wins in Orlando and Charlotte over the weekend. Zach Collins hasn't shot very well, but has proven himself to be a solid rebounder (16 boards in 34 minutes over the weekend), and has remained in the rotation with the return of Jusuf Nurkic. After a couple of DNPs, Shabazz Napier has returned and has given the Blazers some good minutes over their three-game winning streak. They've outscored their opponents by 22 points per 100 possessions with Napier on the floor with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum this season. That's the team's best mark among three-man units that include the two starting guards.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Timberwolves at No. 13 and ahead of the Nuggets at No. 15.

• David Aldridge, also of NBA.com, joins his colleague in moving the Trail Blazers up two spots this week from No. 15 to No. 13...

Evan Turner’s insertion into the starting lineup may not be the sole catalyst, but it coincides with the Blazers’ significant improvement on D in back-to-back-to-back road wins.

Turner has started the last five games.

Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 12 and ahead of the Knicks at No. 14.

• Kenny Ducey at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, four spots better than last week...

Creeping ever-so-closely to the league’s elite tier, the Blazers are getting it done with consistent performances from CJ McCollum and gritty defensive performances late in games. Is it weird to admit it’s kind of fun watching Ed Davis?

It would only be weird to NOT have fun watching Ed Davis.

Ducey has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks (okay!) at No. 8 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 10.

• Chris Barnewall at CBSSports.com has the Trail Blazers all the way up at No. 7 this week, two spots better than last week...

Their offense is starting to find itself, but the defense is beginning to slip a little. They appear to be settling in as a team that will more than likely beat bad teams, but they don't really have a statement win yet.

Barnewall has the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 6 and ahead of the Knicks at No. 8.

• The panel of voters at USA Today has the Trail Blazers at No. 10, one spot better than last week...

The Blazers, who have won three consecutive games after losing five in a row, rank fourth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 101.5.

USA Today has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 9 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 11.

• William Guillory at NOLA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week...

The Trail Blazers are 3-1 during its current five-game road trip and it finishes the trip with a road contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. Portland is 9-5 on the road.

Guillory has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks at No. 10 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 12.

• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on December 14, has the Trail Blazers at No. 17, three spots worse than their previous ranking...

It's been tough sledding for the Portland Trail Blazers of late, and though part of the explanation is simple (Jusuf Nurkic and Moe Harkless have been fighting injuries), the broader picture of the team remains perplexing.

The bizarre statistical inversion continues, as Portland remains a top-10 defense and a bottom-12 offense, effectively flipping last year's rankings. A shaky shot profile accounts for much of the offensive slowdown; nobody takes a lower percentage of their threes from the corners than the Blazers, and nobody converts point-blank looks less efficiently.

Damian Lillard has done his best to keep his team in games of late, scoring 35 and 39 points in losses to the Rockets and Warriors this past week. But it just hasn't been enough.

This is why you should just post your rankings every week on Monday. Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.

Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 16 and ahead of the Knicks at No. 18.