POWER RANKINGS » Back Where They Started In Week 20

by Casey Holdahl
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After nearly 70 games over the course of five months, your Portland Trail Blazers are just about at the finish line of the 2020-21 regular season. And after all those games, the injuries, the ups and downs, and a lot of COVID-19 tests, how much has changed between the first edition of Power Rankings this season and the last? Turns out, not all that much! Portland started the 72-game season back in December ranked anywhere from 7 to 17, and 20 weeks later, while the range has tightened up -- they're no lower than 11 -- the average is about the same. And considering they have the ninth-best record in the NBA, finishing the year between nine and 11 makes perfect sense. Way to go, weekly Power Rankers. 

But the only rankings that matter now are the standings, and on that front, there is still much to be determined with three games to play. The Trail Blazers' hold on sixth and a guaranteed playoff spot is precarious due to having a much more difficult schedule to finish out the season than the Lakers, who sit just a game and a half behind in seventh. Portland owns the tiebreaker versus Los Angeles, and it's possible the Jazz, Suns and Nuggets have varying motivations which might change just how hard they're willing to go when the Blazers come to town (or in the Nuggets case, when THEY come to town). But even the most optimistic reading of how the final week plays out requires the Trail Blazers do something in their final three games that they've yet do to this season: defeat the Suns, Jazz and/or Nuggets. 

Here's how the Trail Blazers come out in the final Power Rankings of the season... 

• The panel of voters at ESPN have the Trail Blazers finishing the season at No. 10, one spot better than last week...

Portland has won seven of its past eight contests, and within that stretch, Damian Lillard is averaging 33.8 points on 52% shooting. The Blazers' slump a few weeks ago had a lot of reasons behind it, but the overarching issue was that Lillard wasn't producing at his standard. Since then, the power of Dame was possibly on display on a bigger-than-basketball level, with him tweeting about wanting fans in Portland's home building -- and having his wish granted a few days later.

The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 9 and ahead of the Lakers at No. 11. 

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, which is actually one spot worse than last week despite Portland going 4-1...

Momentum generally doesn’t carry over from the regular season to the playoffs, but playing well over the last few weeks is certainly better than the alternative, especially if it puts you in a much more advantageous position in the standings. The Blazers have followed a 1-7 stretch with a 7-1 stretch, with the lone loss (Monday in Atlanta) coming in the second game of a back-to-back and after a surprise wake-up call.

Better bench minutes (they’ve outscored their opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions in Carmelo Anthony’s 148 minutes over the eight games) have come with a shorter rotation. The biggest win of the last seven came Friday against the Lakers, with the key stretch being a 16-5 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. Anthony and Enes Kanter were on the floor together for most of that stretch and L.A. shot just 1-for-12.

The Blazers still have some work to do to secure a spot in the West’s top six. They host Houston on Monday, but they finish the season against the Jazz, Suns and Nuggets, currently sporting an 0-9 record (and having allowed more than 125 points per 100 possessions) against the top four teams in the conference.

Shuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks at No. 10 and ahead of the Heat at No. 11. And by the way, the Lakers went 2-2 last week, with one of losses being to Portland, yet jumped up six spots from No. 14 to No. 8 in Schuhmann's rankings. 

• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 in his final ranking this season, one spot better than last week...

The Blazers stayed hot this week, winning three of four games, including a pivotal victory over the Lakers that could help them avoid the play-in tournament. Damian Lillard has regained his MVP form from earlier this season, averaging 33.3 points and eight assists on 54 percent 3-point shooting this week. Portland has now won seven of its last eight games, with the league's second-best net rating over that stretch.

Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 9 and ahead of the Knicks at No. 10. 

• Mo Dakhil at Bleacher Report has Portland at No. 11 this week, a one-spot improvement since last week...

It was a big week for the Blazers. The win over the Lakers means they control their destiny since they hold a 1.5-game lead over L.A. for the 6th spot in the West and own the tiebreaker between the two teams. If they handle their business, they should make the playoffs outright and give Damian Lillard a little rest before the postseason begins. Even stealing the fifth seed is not out of the question as they are just a game behind the Mavs.

The Blazers have won seven of their last eight games and have caught fire from deep. As a team, they are shooting 43.2 percent from three during this stretch. Lillard is averaging 48.7 percent from downtown to help him average 29.6 points. CJ McCollum has come through with some incredible shot-making for his 20.9 point average.

All of this may not be enough to save Terry Stotts’ job, though. His fate will be decided by the Blazers’ performance in the playoffs, and a first-round exit might have him out as coach.

Dakhil has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 9 and ahead of the Hawks at No. 11. 

• The staff at The Score has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 to end the season, two spots improved from last week...

Lillard remains one of the league's best closers despite suffering a knee injury setback in late March, averaging 6.9 points in the fourth quarter for a Blazers team very familiar with nail-biting finishes.

The Score has the Trail Blazers behind the Lakers at No. 10 and ahead of the Hawks at No. 12. 

• Corey Rausch at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, one spot worse than last week...

The Portland Trail Blazers took care of business last week, winning four out of five games to enter the final week of the season in sixth place with the tiebreaker over the Los Angeles Lakers. They are half a game behind the Dallas Mavericks and a game and a half ahead of the Lakers, meaning there is still plenty of work to be done.

Needless to say, the Blazers will be scoreboard watching every night, with only one easy game remaining on their slate. Back-to-back games in the middle of the week against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns are as tough as it gets, with both teams still looking to lock in their seeds. The standings are likely to come down to the final day of the season in a game against the Denver Nuggets.

This week felt more like the Damian Lillard of old, rather than the one that has been limping through the last few weeks. Lillard went off for 31.8 points, 9.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on shooting splits of .551/.500/.949. This level of excellence is tough to expect to sustain but for the Blazers to make it through the final three games and get into the postseason in a comfortable position this may just need to be a reality.

Rausch has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 10 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 12. 

• Zach Harper at The Athletic has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, one spot better than last week...

Good, needed week for Portland, which seems to have gotten back on track. The Blazers have separated themselves from the Lakers in avoiding the play-in tournament right now. However, their last three games of the season are Utah, Phoenix and Denver.

Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 8 and ahead of the Knicks at No. 10. 

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