POWER RANKINGS » Light Work In Week 16
Due to arguably the oddest scheduling quirk I can recall in over a decade of working for the team, the Portland Trail Blazers will play just one time -- at home on Wednesday versus the Utah Jazz -- over the course of nine days. No one is going to complain about some time off coming out of a stretch in which they played eight games over the course of 14 days, but to have so much down time all at once might throw off the rhythm of a team that had started to build a little momentum after going 11-4 in their last 15 contests.
But with an unforgiving post-All-Star break schedule on the horizon, the chance to get some rest and receive treatment for nagging injuries is undoubtably a good thing, even if they lose a little bit of their edge over the next two weeks. After fading in the final days of the regular season last year, not to mention the playoffs, being a bit fresher this time around at crunch time certainly couldn't hurt.
On to this week's rankings...
• The panel of voters at ESPN have the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, two spots better than last week...
Point guard Damian Lillard is hopeful to be named an All-Star for the fourth time and second year in a row on Thursday, when the reserves are named. Lillard is averaging 26.2 points, 6.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals this season. The Blazers are helping his cause with the West's fourth-best record entering the week.
ESPN has the Trail Blazers behind the 76ers at No. 8 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 10.
• John Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, one spot worse than last week...
Pace: 100.1 (20) OffRtg: 111.7 (8) DefRtg: 109.1 (16) NetRtg: +2.5 (10)
The Blazers have won 11 of their last 15 games, with top-five marks in both offensive and defensive efficiency over that stretch. The bigger difference from their first 26 games (6.7 points per 100 possessions) has been on offense, even though Damian Lillard has averaged 3.2 fewer points per game over the last 15 (23.9) than he did over the first 26 (27.1). It's been additional production from Jusuf Nurkic, Jake Layman and Seth Curry that have made a big difference. C.J. McCollum picked up his first career triple-double (28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) against Atlanta on Saturday and has an effective field goal percentage of 57 percent over the last six games, but more important is that the Blazers got a big road win (behind a 17-point third quarter from Jusuf Nurkic) without him shooting particularly well in Utah last week. They can even the season series with a victory at home on Wednesday, the lone game they're playing in a nine-day stretch that began on Sunday.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 9 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 11.
• Reid Forgrave at CBS Sports.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, one spot better than last week...
Single biggest question: Can the Blazers break out of that good-but-not-great malaise they feel destined to stay in in this roster's current iteration? As good as Damian Lillard is, it's tough to imagine a scenario where the Blazers get out of the second round of the playoffs. Maybe this is boiling things down too much, but they just don't have enough good players, especially on the wing.
Forgrave has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 9 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 11.
• Tommy Beer at Rotoworld.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, one spot better than last week...
Damian Lillard (right knee soreness) missed his first game of the season on Saturday. Fortunately, it sounds like it was merely a night off for Dame, as he expected to be available when the Blazers host the Jazz on Wednesday. Lillard has hit at least one 3-pointer in each of Portland’s first 50 games this season. The only other player in NBA history to match that feat is Dennis Scott, who did it as a member of the Orlando Magic during the 1995-96 season.
Beer has the Trail Blazers behind the Rockets at No. 8 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 10.
• Gerald Bourguet at Hoops Habit.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 this week, one spot worse than last week...
Let’s get this out of the way: The player vote putting Derrick Rose ahead of Damian Lillard for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game was downright disrespectful, though disrespect around this time of year is probably nothing new for Dame and the Portland Trail Blazers.
In any case, Lillard’s 26.2 points, 6.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game on the fourth-best team out West should be good for an All-Star berth, even if CJ McCollum — who just tallied the first triple-double of his career over the weekend — is no longer in the conversation.
Bourguet has the Trail Blazers behind the 76ers at No. 8 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 9.
• Khadrice Rollins at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, unchanged from last week...
It’s not that it’s been a down year for CJ McCollum, but it’s the second straight season his scoring and three-point field goal percentage have declined and third consecutive season his assists have dwindled.
However, this past week he had a 21-point quarter and then chipped in 28 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds as he earned his first career triple double with Damian Lillard sitting out. With so many questions about the bench in Portland, getting even more out of CJ could be the difference in determining where this team finishes in the standings.
Rollins has the Trail Blazers behind the Nuggets at No. 9 and ahead of the Nets at No. 11.
• Zach Harper of The Athletic.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 this week, unchanged from last week...
As CJ McCollum has gained more and more notoriety around the NBA over the last three seasons, it’s been frustrating how much his success is tied to Damian Lillard being on the court. The Portland Trail Blazers crazy talented backcourt plays extremely well together and provides more firepower than just about any other guard duo. However, over the previous two seasons, whenever we saw the Blazers with McCollum and no Lillard, the team went in the tank. It makes it impossible to stagger these uber-talented scorers as much as Terry Stotts would love to do, simply because the Blazers have been so bad with just CJ.
(The second part of this analysis notes this is no longer the case, though you'll have to click through for that part, and subscription is required).
Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 9 and behind the Celtics at No. 7.
• Grant Hughes at Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on January 26, has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, unchanged from last week...
The Blazers have won four of their last five games to get to 30-20.
Their 109-104 win at Utah on Monday came courtesy of Damian Lillard's typical late-game reliability, but Jusuf Nurkic's 17-point, four-block third quarter keyed a momentum shift. Tuesday's 123-114 loss at OKC was a predictable result, considering the quality of opponent and quick turnaround time.
Portland needs more consistency (and availability) from Maurice Harkless, whose persistent knee soreness has limited him to seven games this month, and his production has long been a bellwether for the Blazers' success. They're 11-3 when Harkless shoots at least 50 percent from the field.
Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Thunder at No. 10 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 11.