Power Rankings: Moving Into The Top 10 In Week Four
Last week was hit and miss for the Portland Trail Blazers. In terms of hits, they went 3-1 with victories versus the Nuggets, Magic and Kings and sit in fifth-place in the Western Conference standings a month into the season. As for the miss, the Trail Blazers' fell 87-82 to the Kings in Sacramento on Friday, which qualifies as their worst loss of the season thus far, even if they did win the rematch in relatively easy fashion the next night in Portland.
But in a season where only a few teams have managed to play quality basketball on a consistent basis, going 3-1, even with all of those wins coming at home, is enough to make a considerable jump in the weekly Power Rankings. So after getting dinged in last week's rankings, the Trail Blazers have moved into or very near the Top 10 in most of the weekly rankings. And if they've able to secure a few road wins this week, something they haven't done since their second game of the season, they're sure to get another bump.
On to this week's rankings...
• The panel of voters at ESPN.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, four spots better than last week...
The Trail Blazers are about to begin a five-game road trip. They won their first two games of the season on the road but have since lost three straight; two decided by fewer than five points and the other in overtime.
The folks at ESPN.com have the Trail Blazers behind the Wizards at No. 10 and ahead of the Thunder at No. 12.
• Jon Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, five spots improvement from this time last week...
Pace: 98.5 (24) OffRtg: 103.7 (18) DefRtg: 98.5 (2) NetRtg: +5.1 (6)
The Blazers were a minus-9 in less than five minutes with neither Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum on the floor in Friday's four-point loss in Sacramento. Otherwise, their bench has been a positive, and Terry Stotts went back to having one of Lillard and McCollum always on the floor as they got their win back on Saturday. Shabazz Napier seems to have a permanent spot in the rotation, has shot 58 percent, and was on the floor (with Lillard and McCollum) down the stretch of both of the Blazers' close games last week, hitting a big three in Wednesday's win over Orlando. They played 11 of their last 13 games at the Moda Center, but ranked 24th offensively over that stretch and will now play 18 of their next 27 on the road.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers also has the Trail Blazers behind the Wizards and No. 8 and ahead of the Thunder at No. 10.
• David Aldridge, also of NBA.com, has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, four spots better than last week...
Blazers better have big suitcases: 18 of their next 27 through mid-January are on the road.
Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Wizards at No. 10 and ahead of the Sixers at No. 12.
• Kenny Ducey at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, unchanged from last week...
Their defense has only allowed 100 points once in the past seven games, and now ranks as the second-best in the league. It was No. 21 last season.
Ducey has the Trail Blazers behind the Cavaliers at No. 10 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 12.
• Chris Barnewell at CBSSports.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, a three-spot improvement over last week...
The biggest surprise about the Blazers this season has to be the emergence of Shabazz Napier. The former first round pick has gone from probably out of the league to one of Portland's best rotation players. He played a huge role in their win over the Magic with five 3-pointers.
Barnewell has the Trail Blazers behind the Sixers at No. 8 and ahead of the Bucks at No. 10.
• AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, four spots better than last week...
The Blazers boast the No. 2 defense in the league (98.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). They also rank in the top five in opponent field goal percentage (43.1%), three-point percentage (33%) and three-pointers made (8.3 per game).
Neuharth-Keusch has the Trail Blazers behind the Cavaliers at No. 8 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 10.
• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on November 17, has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, one spot better than last week...
Portland went 2-1 this week without scoring 100 points once. On the year, the Blazers rank 16th in offensive efficiency, but third on the other end. Rim defense has been the catalyst, as opponents are converting a league-worst 54 percent of their field goals at the bucket.
Are the Blazers fully responsible for producing that low hit rate, or have they mostly been lucky? We'll need more information before we can be sure, but one critical factor points to regression: Only three teams allow a higher percentage of opponents' shots to come at the rim.
Essentially, the Blazers are permitting tons of looks at close range but somehow haven't been hurt by it yet. Just a guess, but the key word in that analysis is "yet."
Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Timberwolves at No. 11 and ahead of the Bucks at No. 13.