POWER RANKINGS » The Playoff Race With Two Months To Play

by Casey Holdahl
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After four months and 58 games, the 2019-20 Portland Trail Blazers just won't budge. Between injuries and issues on the defensive end, the Blazers have yet to go on the kind of extended run that has resulted in playoffs berths in each of the last six seasons. And with 24 games to play and Damian Lillard joining the ranks of the inactive, the prospects of a late-season rally would seem to be in jeopardy.

At 26-32, the Trail Blazers find themselves in ninth-place in the West, 2.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the final playoffs spot, and with one of the easiest post All-Star break schedules in the league, they're still in good position to string some wins together. But they're also just a half game up on the Pelicans, one game up on the Spurs and two games up on the Suns and Kings, meaning they're actually closer to 12th place then they are to eighth.

So if a playoff push is going to happen, it's got to start sooner rather than later. And with a home-heavy schedule -- Portland plays eight of their next 12 games at the Moda Center -- they've got a chance to make up some ground before heading out for a six-game road trip at the end of March.

Here's where the Trail Blazers stand in the weekly Power Rankings with just under two months to play in the regular season...

• The panel of voters at ESPN have the Trail Blazers at No. 18 this week, two spots worse than last week...

It wasn't technically a must-win game against the Pistons on Sunday, but let's call it a you'd-better-not-lose contest. And the Trail Blazers didn't, squeaking by behind 41 points from CJ McCollum and 32 from Carmelo Anthony. They are four games behind Memphis in the loss column for the eighth playoff spot in the West, and they're running out of time. Damian Lillard is coming back from his groin injury soon, but the Blazers are probably going to need another miraculous run from him to close the gap. The schedule is pretty favorable to close, but as inconsistent as Portland has been, that might not even matter.

The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 17 and ahead of the Magic at No. 19.

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 17 this week, unchanged from last week...

Pace: 101.2 (11) OffRtg: 111.5 (11) DefRtg: 113.5 (27) NetRtg: -1.9 (19)

The Blazers were without Damian Lillard (who may miss another game or two) as they came out of the All-Star break. But they didn't necessarily need their point to start defending better than they did between Christmas and the All-Star break (when they ranked last defensively). Alas, they began their post-break schedule by allowing the Pelicans to score 73 points on 53 possessions in the first half on Friday and complete a season sweep with a wire-to-wire victory.

The Blazers' win over the Pistons two nights later came with a season-high 32 points from Carmelo Anthony, who made as many 3-pointers on Sunday (five) as he had in four games vs. New Orleans. The victory has the Blazers holding onto in ninth place and began a stretch of six straight games vs. the Eastern Conference. But it came after they blew a 19-point lead, getting outscored by 14 points in less than five minutes with CJ McCollum off the floor. An empty-side, pick-and-pop for Anthony (either with Lillard or McCollum as the ball-handler has been a go-to set for the Blazers) provided the dagger on Sunday.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Nets at No. 16 and ahead of the Kings at No. 18.

• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 18 this week, one spot worse than last week...

Portland lost to the Pelicans for the fourth time this season to start the week, giving New Orleans the tiebreaker if the teams are dead even for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They bounced back to beat the Pistons behind 41 points, 12 asssits and nine rebounds from CJ McCollum, and 32 points from Carmelo Anthony with Damian Lillard still out of the lineup with a groin injury. Portland now sits three games out of the eighth seed, but only 2.5 games up on the No. 13 Suns.

The Pelicans actually had the tiebreaker after winning the third game, but who's counting. Also interesting to consider the Blazers are currently closer to 13th than they are to 8th.

Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 17 and ahead of the Kings at No. 19.

• Tommy Beer at Rotoworld has the Trail Blazers at No. 17 this week, two spots down from last week...

With Damian Lillard (groin strain) sidelined, the Blazers needed strong games from their supporting cast Sunday night vs. Detroit. And that's just what they got. Carmelo Anthony scored a season-high 32 points (on only 16 FG attempts), C.J. McCollum recorded a season-high 41 points, a season-high nine rebounds, and a career-high 12 assists, while Hassan Whiteside chipped in 16 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and four blocks.

Beer has the Trail Blazers behind the Nets at No. 16 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 18.

• Zach Harper at The Athletic has the Trail Blazers at No. 21 this week, another two-spot drop from last week...

Without Lillard in the lineup, the loss to New Orleans was totally justified. But they still lost to a team they can’t really afford to lose to. Portland is missing Dame for a few games, and that could very well decide their season. They won’t tank or punt on the season any time soon, but I hope they’re extra careful with Lillard and look long-term with his situation. Getting hurt while clawing for the 8-seed only to get obliterated by the Lakers in the first-round doesn’t seem to be worth the risk.

Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Suns at No. 20 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 22.

• Phil Watson at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 20 this week, unchanged from last week...

The Portland Trail Blazers opened their second half with a thud Friday night, getting beaten handily at home by the Pelicans for their third consecutive loss. It was Portland’s fourth loss in five games and was their first game since losing Damian Lillard to a groin injury. He’s expected to be out another three or four games.

Lillard is averaging 29.5 points per game, fourth-best in the NBA, but had to pull out of both the Three-Point Shootout and the All-Star Game because of the groin injury.

CJ McCollum took on the load with the scoring and playmaking in the loss to the Pelicans, finishing with 27 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in 37 minutes while hitting 10-of-22 overall and making 3-of-8 from 3-point range. McCollum is on pace for his fifth straight season averaging at least 20 points per game, currently putting in 21.4 a night over 53 games.

Watson has the Trail Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 19 and ahead of the Pistons at No. 21.

• Michael Shapiro at "Sports Illustrated" has the Trail Blazers at No. 15 this week, unchanged from last week...

When searching for an answer for Portland’s slide in the Western Conference this season, a simple answer arises on the boards. The Blazers are No. 27 in defensive rebounding and just three spots better in rebounding percentage, consistently losing the boards battle on a given night. This shouldn’t be the case for a team with a mammoth center, but as is usually the case with Hassan Whiteside, his individual statistics far outpace his team impact. Jusuf Nurkic’s absence has been crushing after a run to last year’s Western Conference finals.

And Rodney Hood's. And Zach Collins'.

Shapiro has the Trail Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 15 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 16.

• Andy Bailey at Bleacher Report put the Trail Blazers at No. 19 this week, a two-spot drop from last week...

The next few weeks of Blazers basketball could make or break the season.

"Damian Lillard (right groin strain) did not practice today," Portland reporter Casey Holdahl revealed Thursday, "said he thinks he might miss three or four games."

The Blazers have already dropped one crucial game to the New Orleans Pelicans since that news. If they continue to slip against the string of Eastern Conference teams they have coming up, their playoff chances could be doomed.

Over the course of this season, Portland is plus-1.4 points per 100 possessions with Dame on the floor and minus-10.4 with him off.

The question now becomes whether Lillard travels with the team on their three-game road trip starting Thursday in Indianapolis versus the Pacers.

Bailey has the Trail Blazers behind the Magic at No. 18 and ahead of the Kings at No. 20.


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