Power Rankings: Trail Blazers In The Middle To End 2017

by Casey Holdahl
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It can be a bit obtuse to consider the end of the calendar year when you cover the NBA. While there's always an inclination to reflect on the events of the last 12 months come the end of December, that doesn't really fit all that well with regard to the NBA, as we're only a little more than two months into a six-month season when the calendar flips over. As in, does the run that the Blazers went on at the end of the 2016-17 regular season feel all that germane to where they're at now, a third of the way through the 2017-18 season? It feels like the relevance of anything that happened last season has already come and gone, which can lead one to wonder if recounting the highs and lows of the last year is really worth the effort.

But you can say this: the Trail Blazers are in a better spot at the end of 2017 than they were at this time last year. While they haven't been the team many expected then to be after they finished the 2016-17 season on such a high note with the addition of Jusuf Nurkić, at least they're not six games under .500. They are not where they need to be, but at least they haven't dug themselves as deep of a hole as they found themselves in at the end of 2016.

Onto the final rankings of 2017, in which the Trail Blazers find themselves smack dab in the middle of the NBA...

• The panel of voters at ESPN.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 14 this week, six spots worse than last week...

On Saturday, the Trail Blazers won their 14th straight game against the Lakers, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak all time by any team against the Lakers. Only the Celtics had a longer streak -- back in the 1950s.

I suppose the takeaway here is that if all else fails, you can still depend on the Trail Blazers to beat the Lakers.

ESPN has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 13 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 15.

• John Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 16 this week, two spots worse than last week...

Pace: 98.8 (18) OffRtg: 102.1 (26x) DefRtg: 101.7 (5) NetRtg: +0.4 (15)

The Blazers' offense has been pretty anemic (93 points scored per 100 possessions) in two games without Damian Lillard, but was pretty anemic in the first place (scoring 97 per 100 over the previous four). They haven't shot much worse over those six games, but rank last in free throw rate (just 16 attempts per 100 shots from the field) over that stretch. Lillard was on pace to become just the eighth player in NBA history to shoot 90 percent or better on at least seven free throw attempts per game (four of the previous seven have done it multiple times), but he had just 10 total attempts over his last four games and without him, the Blazers don't have anybody who can get to the line consistently. Considering Lillard's hamstring strain, the Blazers' best Christmas present was four days off around the holiday.

Hopefully the time off will result in a healthier and more consistent Trail Blazers team going into 2018. If they don't start getting a few things figured out soon, particularly on the offensive end, it's going to be difficult to rally in the second half of the season.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the 76ers at No. 15 and ahead of the Heat at No. 17.

• Kenny Ducey at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 14, five spots worse than last week...

I think the Blazers' only win against a good team came when they beat the Heat a couple weeks ago. Aside from that... do Denver and OKC at the beginning of the year count? Maybe the Knicks and Wizards? They had a chance to pick up a couple big ones this week, and I’m still waiting on the team-defining one. At least Shabazz Napier looks like a player now.

We discussed this on the latest edition of the Rip City Report. On one hand, a win is a win, but if you're trying to pick Portland's "best" win this season, there's not many good options to choose from. I'd probably take the road win versus the Wizards, though needing a tremendous comeback in the fourth might not fit the definition of a "good" win, at least for some.

Ducey has the Trail Blazers behind the Nuggets at No. 13 and ahead of the Bucks at No. 15.

• Chris Barnewall of CBSSports.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, six spots worse than last week...

Under Damian Lillard's tree is a trip to the NBA All-Star game after being snubbed so many times in the past.

Lillard certainly deserved the nod this season, though it's going to be a close race. You can vote for Lillard for All-Star on NBA.com, the NBA app, Facebook, Twitter and Google Search if you've got a few minute.

Barnewall has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 12 and ahead of the Bucks at No. 14.

• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on December 21, has the Trail Blazers at No. 13, three spots better than last week...

The Portland Trail Blazers only managed a 2-2 mark since we last ranked, but these guys are flat-out grinding. And that counts for something.

They scrapped to beat the Magic by seven points Friday, then they got a critical late-game save from Al-Farouq Aminu, who chased down Kemba Walker for a block to secure a two-point win against the Hornets.

"That was huge," CJ McCollum told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, "that block saved us the game."

Portland dropped a one-pointer to the Wolves and a two-point game against the Spurs to close out the week. It could have won either contest, and it's got its defense to thank for making so many games competitive of late.

Nobody's been better on D lately. Portland held opponents to a league-low 95.6 points per 100 possessions in its last four games. 

Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the 76ers at No. 13 and ahead of the Heat at No. 14.

• William Gillory of NOLA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 16 this week...

The Blazers snapped a 3-game losing streak with Saturday's 95-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers and star point guard Damian Lillard has missed the last two with a strained right hamstring.

Gillory has the Trail Blazers behind the Knicks at No. 15 and ahead of the Heat at No. 17.