POWER RANKINGS » Hitting The Road After A Rough Week 5

by Casey Holdahl
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What a week. 

Between postponements due to COVID-19, significant injuries that will keep starters out of the lineup for a considerable portion of the season and a defense that still ranks near the bottom of the NBA, it's hard to feel too certain about the quality of the current iteration of the Trail Blazers coming off a stretch of playing eight of their last 10 at home (not that playing at home provides the benefit that it used to). One one hand, they currently sit at fifth in the Western Conference standings with a 9-7 record, so it could certainly be a whole lot worse. But on the other, the difficulty of their schedule is about to increase considerably and injuries, even those that presumably will not require long recuperation times, are having a cumulative effect, so not coming away with more wins at home feels like a real missed opportunity. 

Even so, the Trail Blazers still come out in the upper third of the league in the most recent round of Power Rankings, though that seems more like a product of what other teams have done, or to be more specific, what they haven't, than an inditement of the Trail Blazers' quality. It's nice that they're still in the thick of it without playing anything close to their best basketball, but that doesn't seem like something you want to bank on for an entire season. 

Here how the Trail Blazers fared in this week's Power Rankings... 

• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, one spot better than last week...

The Blazers are quietly managing their injury misfortune, and with Sunday's game against the Knicks as the most recent example, they're doing it with a tried and true method: Dame. Damian Lillard has dropped 35-plus points in three straight games, with a 40-point, 13-assist game a couple before that. Lillard is a supreme carrier, and that's what he'll need to do for the next few weeks while the Blazers wait on the return of CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.

ESPN has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 10 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 12. 

• Jon Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, also a one-spot improvement from last week...

Pace: 100.8 (14) OffRtg: 113.2 (7) DefRtg: 114.0 (28) NetRtg: -0.8 (17)

Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. have combined to shoot 27% from 3-point range (they’re 3-for-27 over the last three games) and though the Blazers have allowed just 107.7 points per 100 possessions in their 319 minutes on the floor together, Portland still ranks 28th defensively. So it’s fair to say that the two biggest roster additions haven’t made the anticipated impact. Yet this team sits in fourth place in the Western Conference at 9-6.

With CJ McCollum out, the Blazers’ two leading scorers beyond Damian Lillard are Carmelo Anthony (12.1 points per game on an effective field goal percentage well below the league average) and Gary Trent Jr. (just 10.8 points per game). Yet the Blazers just had their third most efficient game of the season against a team (New York) that ranks fifth defensively.

Of course, at 9-6, the Blazers are just a game and a half ahead of the 10th-place Warriors. They’ve won six of their last eight games, but have been outscored by 29 points over their last six. Without McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, the margin for error is thin. But the strength of schedule over the next few weeks is favorable. The Blazers’ longest road trip of the first-half schedule (six scheduled games over 11 days) does begin Thursday in Houston.

Schumann has the Trail Blazers behind the Nets at No. 8 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 10. 

• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports ranks the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, unchanged from last week...

The Blazers only played two games this week, losing to the Spurs by 21 on Monday and beating the Knicks on Sunday. As expected, Damian Lillard picked up his scoring with CJ McCollum sidelined, with Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony thriving given the extra opportunity. Anfernee Simons stepped up in the win over the Knicks with 16 points on 4-of-6 3-point shooting. If he can become a consistent contributor, that will go a long way toward staying afloat while McCollum is out.

Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 9 and ahead of the Raptors at No. 11. 

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

Any regrets with this squad? Thought the defense would be fixed and the roster would be whole. It would be easy to blame the Portland Trail Blazers’ poor defense on the injuries so far, but that would be disingenuous. The Blazers were bad on defense before Jusuf Nurkic went down, and I’m not sure Zach Collins should be needed to fix that. Portland is down Nurkic and CJ McCollum. The Blazers need to find ways to get stops, while not losing much of their offensive punch. The offense has been incredible lately, but the defense is still one of the worst in the NBA.

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

• Brad Rowland at UPROXX has the Trail Blazers at No. 16 this week, six spots worse than last week...

Losing to Oklahoma City at home on Monday isn’t the end of the world, but it maybe wasn’t the best sign for Portland. The Blazers are going to struggle without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. The only question is just how much they’ll struggle and how it will impact their overall pursuits.

Rowland has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 15 and ahead of the Rockets at No. 17. 

• Michael Shapiro at Sports Illustrated has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, two spots better thal last week...

C.J. McCollum’s foot injury was one of the major bummers of the 2020–21 season, taking the Lehigh product out of commission amid perhaps the best stretch of his career. We should see a significant rise in volume from backcourt mate Damian Lillard with McCollum out in the coming weeks, which shouldn’t necessarily be a difficult adjustment. Lillard tallied 39 points on just 17 shots in a win over the Knicks on Sunday, dicing the NBA’s No. 3 defense with relative ease. Perhaps Lillard can enter the MVP conversation if Portland holds its spot in the Western Conference standings.

Shapiro has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 11 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 13. 

• Corey Rausch at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 20 this week, nine spots worse than last week...

The Blazers are in a lot of trouble and likely needed a break in the action to try to reset things. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have joined Zach Collins on the injured list. With three of their top players out for an extended period of time, it is hard to imagine a world where Lillard is enough to keep this team afloat.

The most bothersome part is the injury to McCollum. One of the most glaring names on the list of best active players to never make an All-Star game, McCollum finally looked on track to make his first appearance before the injury likely removes him from contention. Eventually, something has to break right for Portland, but not this week.

Rausch has the Traill Blazers behind the Bulls at No. 19 and ahead of the Raptors at No. 21. 

• Mo Dakhil at Bleacher Report has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, one spot worse than last week...

It just seems the Blazers can never stay healthy for more than a month. After losing Jusuf Nurkic for several weeks with a broken wrist, they lost the red-hot CJ McCollum to a stress fracture that will see him miss extended time.

After they got blown out by the San Antonio Spurs to start the week, their miniseries with the Memphis Grizzlies was canceled, leaving them with time to regroup. That time in between games did pay off as they beat the New York Knicks behind Damian Lillard’s 39 points.

There is no way to replace McCollum’s production. Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and Nassir Little must contribute in big ways. The Blazers got those contributions against New York, but that must continue as they get ready to start a long six-game road trip next week.

Dakhil has the Trail Blazers behind the Suns at No. 10 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 12. 

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