Power Rankings: Blazers Backslide After Going 0-2 In Week Three

by Casey Holdahl
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After playing 10 games in the first 20 days of the 2017-18 regular season, the Portland Trail Blazers got a reprieve from the schedule last week by playing just two games, both of which were at home. But that reprieve felt more like a punishment by the end of the week after the Trail Blazers lost to the Grizzlies on Tuesday and the Nets on Friday by a total of five points. There was much talk during training camp about getting off to a better start this season, but at 6-6 despite playing eight of their first 12 games at the Moda Center, it's hard to consider the first three weeks of Portland's season as anything but more of the same.

Given that, it's not at all surprising to see the Trail Blazers drop dramatically in this week's Power Rankings. In fact, when one takes into account their strength of schedule, both in terms of opponents and location, it's a bit surprising that Portland didn't drop further this week than they did...

• The panel of voters at ESPN.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 15 this week, three spots worse than last week...

Clutch time in Portland is Damian Lillard time. Lillard leads the league with 13 unassisted field goals in clutch time this season, nine more than any other Trail Blazers player. As a team, Portland leads the league with 16 unassisted field goals in clutch time.

I'm not sure that's especially timely analysis after the last week, but it's good information nonetheless.

ESPN.com has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 14 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 16.

• Jon Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 14 this week, eight spots worse than last week...

Pace: 99.7 (19) OffRtg: 104.6 (15) DefRtg: 100.5 (4) NetRtg: +4.1 (7)

The Blazers have been unable to take advantage of a home-heavy stretch of schedule, because, after scoring 110 points per 100 possessions over their first six games, they've scored just 99 over their last six, with players not named C.J. McCollum shooting 24 percent from 3-point range. The absence of Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle sprain) over the last four games has created a hole in the rotation (and bad defense had Jusuf Nurkic sitting the final 11 minutes on Friday), though Shabazz Napier had some good minutes in losses to Memphis and Brooklyn last week. Their restricted-area field goal percentage (still last in the league) has climbed above 50 percent, but their assist rate (AST/FGM) has dropped below. Only the Suns have assisted on a lower percentage of their baskets.

Outside of the play of Shabazz Napier, not a whole lot of positive takeaways from the last week. That assist rate stat is especially devastating, though it does explain why Portland has struggled offensively so far this season.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks at No. 13 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 15.

• David Aldridge, also of NBA.com, has the Trail Blazers at No. 15 this week, two spots worse than last week...

.500 (4-4) at home after dispiriting losses to Memphis and Brooklyn.

The Trail Blazers are going to pay the price for dropping so many winnable home games once the playoff race starts to heat up. Then again, if they're unable to get moving in the right direction soon, they likely won't have a playoff race to worry about.

Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks at No. 14 and since he only ranks the Top 15, we'll just have to guess as to which team Portland is in front of at No. 16.

• Kenny Ducey at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, four spots worse than last week...

The Blazers have one of the league’s best closers in Damian Lillard, but things have been going horribly wrong in crunch time of late. Portland looked all out of sorts down the stretch against Brooklyn last week, turning the ball over and missing rebound opportunities. That came one game after an awkward attempt at a game-winner from C.J. McCollum that wouldn’t go. Perhaps Dame Time is still adjusting to Daylight Savings.

I wouldn't disagree with this take regarding the Brooklyn game, but McCollum's shot versus the Grizzlies was a quality look. It just didn't fall.

Ducey has the Trail Blazers behind the Cavaliers at No. 10 and ahead of the Knicks at No. 12.

• AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today has the Trail Blazers has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, a seven-spot drop from last week...

Portland has lost all six games this season by an average of 5.3 points, the lowest in the league. Two of those losses (Memphis, Los Angeles Clippers) were decided by one point.

Being in games late is a good thing, but you have to start winning those games eventually, especially at home. The NBA don't award playoff spots for close losses.

Neuharth-Keusch has the Trail Blazers behind the Pelicans at No. 12 and ahead of the Thunder at No. 14.

• Sean Deveny of The Sporting News has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week...

Portland’s rebounding percentage has gone from 49.8 last year (18th) to 54.2 percent this year (first). That’s cut opponents’ attempted field goals from 86.2 to 83.0, and Portland has been the third-most improved defensive team this season (from 107.8 points per 100 possessions to 100.5).

Deveny has the Trail Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 9 and ahead of the Timberwolves at No. 12.

• Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, seven spots worse than last week...

A 4-2 start has given way to a regrettable 2-4 stretch as the Portland Trail Blazers are failing to capitalize on a home-heavy schedule to open the 2017-18 campaign. They’ve dropped the last two games of their ongoing six-game home-stand, and overall, they’re only 4-4 within the friendly confines of the Moda Center.

C.J. McCollum‘s miss with 3.7 seconds left in that one-point loss to the Grizzlies stung, but probably not as much as losing to the lowly Nets to fall back to that dreaded .500 territory where Rip City seemingly can’t escape from.

Bourguet has the Trail Blazers behind the Timberwolves at No. 12 and ahead of the Bucks at No. 13.

• Chris Barnewall at CBSSports.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, six spots worse than last week...

If you thought the Blazers would have a top-five defense and a middle-of-the-road offense, then you are either psychic or lying. Potentially both!

Barnewall has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks at No. 11 and ahead of the Raptors at No. 13.

• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on November 10, has the Trail Blazers at No. 13, one spot better than last week...

If the Blazers could get more consistent contributions from their role players, they'd have little trouble separating themselves from the mass of Western Conference teams hanging around the .500 mark. At 6-5 following a 1-1 week that could have been better if CJ McCollum's potential game-winner had gone down on Tuesday, Portland is still leaning on its stars too heavily.

Sometimes, things still work out. Like when Damian Lillard, McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic contributed all but 20 of Portland's 103 points in Sunday's win over the Thunder.

Still, it'd be nice if others (looking at you, Moe Harkless and Evan Turner) could help out a little.

One possible solution would be running more. If role-fillers aren't getting looks in half-court sets, maybe the open lanes of transition basketball could lead to easier buckets. Through their first 11 games, the Blazers rank dead last in percentage of offense derived from fast-break points.

Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 12 and ahead of the 76ers at No. 14.

• Brady Klopfer of BBallBreakdown.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 7 in his initial rankings this season...

A team starting Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic has no right being a top-five defensive team. And yet, here we are. The Trail Blazers are crashing the boards like it’s saving them, and the result is limited opportunities for opposing offenses. Portland is allowing teams to shoot at a higher percentage than their own offense is, yet those opportunities are limited thank to the surprising rebounding totals.

On offense, the Blazers have been a little bit disappointing, as Lillard and McCollum have taken turns being hot, rather than finding a flow together. But there’s no reason to be concerned about Portland scoring the ball: that will come around. When it does, hopefully their defense will still be locking down three-point shooters, and grabbing 82.6% of defensive rebounds.

Klopfer has the Trail Blazers behind the Timberwolves at No. 6 and ahead of the Pistons at No. 8.