POWER RANKINGS » Moving Back Up In Week 19
Anyone who tells you they understand the 2020-21 Portland Trail Blazers is lying to you.
After losing five-straight, including all four games of an extended homestand, the Trail Blazers have rattled off four-straight wins on the road, with the first three versus the Pacers, Grizzlies and Nets coming by an average margin of 20.3 points. How many teams in NBA history have followed up four-straight home losses with four-straight road wins? Before the Trail Blazers this week, none. Portland had been playing better, with the first three losses coming by a combined total of four points, but it's hard to imagine anyone thought they were primed to start blowing out teams on the road after winning just three of their last 13 games and starting a trip on a five-game losing streak.
And thanks to a great week, the Trail Blazers are now back in the race for sixth (aka the race to avoid the play-in tournament) with two weeks remaining in the regular season. After finishing up the trip with games versus the Hawks and Cavaliers, the Trail Blazers return home to host the Lakers, Spurs and Rockets in games that will go a long way toward deciding which teams will get nearly a week off before the start of the postseason and which teams will have to fight their way in. The Blazers looked as though they were destined for the play-in before leaving Portland, but with their results in the last week, they're back in a three-way tie with the Mavericks and Lakers for sixth. Go figure.
As you might expect, along with moving up a few spots in the standings, their play in the last week has resulted in a precipitous climb in this week's Power Rankings after bottoming out in the last roundup.
• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, one spot better than last week...
After an awkward few weeks, the Blazers have righted the ship and have gotten out of the play-in spot. They've won four straight, all on the road, with CJ McCollum working back to full strength and the role players stepping up. For Portland, avoiding the play-in is the priority; with a favorable schedule to close out, chances are looking much better than they did a week ago.
The folks at ESPN have Portland behind Dallas at No. 10 and ahead of Atlanta at No. 12.
• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, a six-spot improvement over last week...
Every week in this weird season, there are a few teams whose situations look a lot different than they did seven days prior. The Blazers are one of those teams this week, and that’s a good thing. They’ve followed a 2-9 stretch with a four-game winning streak, beating the Pacers and three teams — Memphis, Brooklyn and Boston — that had all been playing pretty well. All four wins have come on the road, all four have come by double-digits, and all four have come with the Blazers scoring at least 125 points per 100 possessions.
Damian Lillard has averaged a team-high 26 points over the winning streak and had a big game in Brooklyn (with a couple of ridiculous 3-pointers) on Friday. But the entire (shortened) rotation has shot well, Anfernee Simons made nine threes in Indiana, and CJ McCollum (who has reduced his 3-point volume and shot well both inside and outside the arc) was ridiculously efficient in three of the four wins. It’s been the Blazers’ best stretch of offense since the All-Star break and it has maybe saved their season.
The Blazers are in Atlanta on Monday, having played only eight guys in Boston on Sunday night. But they’ll have a rest advantage when they host the Lakers in a huge game on Friday.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 9 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 11.
• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports also has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, a jump of nine spots from last week's ranking...
The Blazers responded to a five-game losing streak by rattling off four straight road wins this week, including big ones over the Grizzlies, Nets and Celtics. Damian Lillard was terrific, putting up 26 points and 8.3 assists per game this week on 44 percent 3-point shooting, while CJ McCollum added 22.3 points on 52 percent from beyond the arc. Jusuf Nurkic also appears to be getting his legs underneath him, averaging 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this week on 57 percent shooting. Portland is currently the No. 7 seed, but has the same record as the two teams above them -- the Lakers and Mavs.
Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Heat at No. 9 and ahead of the Hawks at No. 11.
• Mo Dakhil at Bleacher Report has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, four spots better than last week...
Portland has rebounded after going on a five-game losing streak to winning four straight games. Damian Lillard found his shooting stroke from deep last week connecting on 43.6 percent of his 10 attempts. CJ McCollum has kept up with his backcourt mate, shooting 52.4 percent from three, and was unstoppable in Boston with 33 points.
The Blazers have gotten an important jolt off the bench from Anfernee Simons. He averaged 12.5 points and shot 60.9 percent from deep. Jusuf Nurkic had his best week since coming back from his injury, averaging a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Every game is going to matter down the stretch as the Blazers look to climb out of the play-in game and this three-way tie with the Lakers and Mavericks.
Dakhil has the Trail Blazers behind the Hawks at No. 11 and ahead of the Celtics at No. 13.
• Corey Rausch at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, an eight-spot jump from last week...
The Portland Trail Blazers started to bounce back over the course of April after a rough stretch of basketball led to the organization starting to question everything. Damian Lillard is still far from healthy but he is doing what he can to keep the team in contention. April was certainly a down month for him, averaging 23.0 points, 6.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on shooting splits of .392/.375/.845.
That level of efficiency from the field is a killer and is just one of the reasons the typically high-octane Blazers ranked ninth in offensive efficiency. For a team so bad at defense (23rd last month), any sort of slippage in terms of scoring efficiency will spell disaster in a Western Conference full of contenders. Wins to end the month against the Memphis Grizzlies and Brooklyn Nets are promising, but are they a harbinger of things to come or a mirage?
The Blazers are hoping is it the former. Any sort of early flameout in the playoffs is likely to be met with changes, starting (but unlikely stopping) with Terry Stotts. The Western Conference is highly competitive and Damian Lillard is likely to go down as the best Blazer ever. Building the right team to compete at the highest level, however, is still hard to envision.
Rausch has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 9 and ahead of the Hawks at No. 11.
• Zach Harper at The Athletic has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, six-spots improved from last week...
Huge bounce-back week for the Blazers, which was desperately needed. I’m not sure if they’re fixed, but they’re certainly not looking lost anymore.
Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks at No. 9 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 11.