POWER RANKINGS » Still Wait And See In Week 3

by Casey Holdahl
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The Trail Blazers got their third week of the 2020-21 NBA season off to a rough start, losing to the Bulls on Monday despite having a 20-point first-half lead. But they bounced back with blowout wins versus both the Timberwolves and Kings -- not exactly the most difficult slate of games, but you can only play the teams you're scheduled to play -- and go into Monday night's game versus the Raptors with a chance to win three straight for the first time this season. 

So while that's not to say they don't have a lot of improvements yet to make -- they do, particularly on the defense end -- but they do seem to be making progress. CJ McCollum has continued his incredibly hot start to the season, Jusuf Nurkic seems as though he's rounding into form and they're about as healthy as they're going to be this season, so things do seem to be trending in the right direction. And with eight of their next nine games at home, they're in a good position to stack some wins before the schedule turns at the end of the month. 

Here's how the Trail Blazers come out in the third week of Power Rankings...

• The panel of voters at ESPN have the Trail Blazers ranked at No. 12 this week, unchanged from last week...

The Portland backcourt is rolling. But it's been in a somewhat staggered fashion lately, with Damian Lillard going off for 39 points against the Wolves one night, then CJ McCollum dropping 37 against the Kings another night. Lillard or McCollum has led the Blazers in scoring in all of the Blazers' nine games this season. The looming concern, though: Defensively, the Blazers' bench units are a problem, which isn't too surprising considering Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony are two top options. When Anthony and Kanter play together, the Blazers allow 115.9 points per 100 possessions.

The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Nets at No. 11 and ahead of the Nuggets at No. 13.

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 14 this week, two spots better than last week...

Pace: 102.7 (7) OffRtg: 113.6 (5) DefRtg: 111.6 (23) NetRtg: +2.0 (10)

On Tuesday, the Blazers became the first team this season to lose a game it led by at least 20 points, blowing a 20-point, second-quarter lead to Chicago. The collapse began with a nearly six-minute scoreless stretch in that second period, and bench minutes continue to be an issue beyond that. The Blazers have been outscored by 13.1 points per 100 possessions in CJ McCollum’s 131 minutes on the bench. So on Thursday and Saturday, the Blazers took leads (over the Wolves and Kings) of more than 30 points, outscoring the two teams by 34 in 29 total minutes with the Portland starters on the floor, to prevent another collapse. They’re one of three teams — the Bucks (4) and Clippers (3) are the others — that have led three or more games by at least 30 points.

Though they’ve had Jusuf Nurkic from the start this season, the Blazers remain a jump-shooting team. Only 40% of their shots, the league’s second lowest rate, have come in the paint. Nurkic’s 13.4 field goal attempts per 36 minutes are his lowest rate since he was a rookie in Denver, and his free throw rate (22.0 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is the lowest of his career (and down from 44.2 before he got hurt in 2018-19). But the Blazers have a top-five offense for the third straight season because they’ve taken care of the ball (they rank second in turnover rate) and have shot well from the perimeter (fifth in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint).

Their last six games have come against teams that rank in the bottom nine defensively and they don’t play a team that currently ranks in the top 10 defensively until they host the Knicks (!) on Jan. 24.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Nets at No. 13 and ahead of the Hornets at No. 15. 

• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 14 this week, which is three spots worse than last week...

The Blazers offense had the good fortune of playing the three worst defenses in the NBA this week, so they must be somewhat disappointed to only come away with two wins. Carmelo Anthony was unable to hit a game-tying 3-point attempt in the closing seconds against the Bulls in their only loss of the week. CJ McCollum continues his career campaign, scoring 27.7 points per game on 47 percent 3-point shooting in the three games.

Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Heat at No. 13 and ahead of the Thunder at No. 15. 

• Zach Harper at The Athletic has the Trail Blazers at No. 12, a three-spot improvement over last week...

The Portland Trail Blazers probably should have gone 3-0 to warrant a three-spot jump in the rankings, but they mostly are moving up because there are so many dramatic falls from grace this week. Beating Minnesota sans Karl-Anthony Towns and beating the awful Sacramento Kings aren’t huge accomplishments. But it’s what we needed to see out of this Portland Trail Blazers team. The Blazers are mostly just thriving offensively from behind the 3-point line. They have the fourth-highest volume of 3-pointers taken and they’re seventh in accuracy. But they’re 25th in making 2-pointers, which makes me wonder if their top-five offense is sustainable. We know the defense is a mess right now, and it might be until Zach Collins is healthy and back in the mix. Portland is living by the 3, but will it start dying by the 3 at some point?

Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Nuggets at No. 11 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 13. 

• Corey Rausch at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, six spots worse than last week...

It is time to admit that the Portland Trail Blazers might not have been as good as their offseason made some of the more optimistic NBA fans think they would be. They are one of the worst defensive teams in the league and that is unlikely to improve with the players in place.

The offense is explosive and the Blazers will have to focus outscoring their opponents on a nightly basis. Boasting a top-five offensive rating indicates something they can hope to do but it may simply not be sustainable. Every year, there is a team that fools people into thinking they are a real contender because they have a prolific offense and ignore the other side of the ball.

Damian Lillard has been fantastic and is currently third in the league in scoring. CJ McCollum is also off to an explosive start and is jacking 3-pointers with no regard for his opponent’s safety. The rest of the team just needs to be better.

Jusuf Nurkic has not been the same player he was in the bubble. Ditto for Carmelo Anthony. Gary Trent Jr. has been good but at times is too similar to what the two stars offer. The spotlight falls on the wings in Robert Covington and Derrick Jones, Jr. who were brought in for their defense. They have been fine but they need to be better than that to give the team chance.

It wasn't against great competition but the Blazers did win two of their three games last week in blowout fashion and their defense, which started last week ranked 25th, is now 22nd. That's not to say they should be ranked higher but it does make one question why THIS is the week to accept that... they're actually bad?

Rausch has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 12 and ahead of the Hornets at No. 14.  

• Mo Dakhil at Bleacher Report has the Trail Blazers at No. 14, two spots better than last week...

The Blazers could have climbed up the rankings if they did not blow a 20-point lead to the Bulls. They rebounded nicely with easy wins over the Wolves and Kings.

A good sign for Portland last week was Jusuf Nurkic’s play. His scoring and rebounding went up while he racked up 4.3 assists per game.

As a team the Blazers are sporting a top-five offense, but their 23rd-ranked defense is holding them back. Even though it was not top-notch opponents, the Blazers put up a defensive rating of 103.5 last week. It will take time, but they have plenty of defensive tools. Gary Trent Jr. and Derrick Jones Jr. are doing well as point-of-attack defenders with Robert Covington rotating on the weak side.

The Blazers would climb up the rankings if they find their defensive gear.

Dakhil has the Trail Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 13 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 15. 

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