Power Rankings: Wait And See In Week Three

by Casey Holdahl
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It's still a bit tough to figure out just how good the Portland Trail Blazers are three weeks into the 2017-18 season. On one hand, they're in a three-way tie for fourth-place in the Western Conference with a 6-4 record and have won their last two versus the Lakers and Thunder. On the other, they needed a buzzer-beater from Damian Lillard to secure the win versus L.A. and Carmelo Anthony got thrown out in the second quarter of Sunday night's victory versus Oklahoma City. Of course, winning games is all that matters in the end, so Portland is doing fine on that front, but once until they string together a few convincing victories against some of the better teams in the NBA, they're unlikely to get much respect from the weekly Power Rankers. That wait-and-see approach to Portland's play so far this season is probably why there's not much consensus this week in terms of movement in this weeks rankings.

A strong finish to their homestand, which continues Tuesday night with the Grizzlies, would go a long way toward the Trail Blazers cementing their position in the Western Conference and, slightly less importantly, on the weekly rankings...

• The panel at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, two spots worse than last week...

The Trail Blazers needed a Damian Lillard 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left in the game to beat the Lakers on Thursday. It was Lillard's fourth go-ahead 3-pointer with less than two seconds left in the game since his rookie season in 2012-13, including playoffs. No other player has more than two over that span.

The ESPNers have the Trail Blazers behind the Thunder, a team they just beat, at No. 11 and behind the Jazz, the team that gave Portland their last loss, at No. 13. Go figure.

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 this week, also two spots worse than last week...

Pace: 100.2 (17) OffRtg: 105.5 (11) DefRtg: 99.9 (4) NetRtg: +5.6 (6)

The Blazers blew a late lead in Utah on Wednesday, but set their clocks back to Dame Time a night later. After his game-winner against the Lakers and another big shot (and a bunch of free throws) against Oklahoma City on Sunday, Damian Lillard leads the league (by a wide margin) in clutch points, with seven of the Blazers' 10 games having been within five points in the last five minutes. Lillard has an effective field goal percentage of 44 percent in the first three quarters and 61 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime. C.J. McCollum has kind of gone the other way, but hit two huge threes in Sunday's win. The Blazers are seven games into a stretch where they're playing 10 of 11 at home.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 7 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 9.

• David Aldridge, also of NBA.com, has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 this week, one spot better than last week...

Evan Turner playing with major confidence off the bench.

Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 11 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 13.

• Kenny Ducey of SI.com has the Trail Blazers all the way up at No. 7 this week, six spots better than last week...

Just as I was feeling down about the Blazers, Damian Lillard took the wheel and led Portland to glory in consecutive games. As a lot of teams in this range waffle, but the Blazers have the weapons to duel with the West’s powers. Now, they just need to show the consistency.

Ducey has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 6 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 8.

• Bill Barnewall at CBSSports.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 6 this week, two spots worse than last week...

Damian Lillard is playing absolutely out of his mind right now. He's scored 30-plus points in four straight games, hit a game winner to beat the Lakers and made the clutch shots needed to beat the Thunder late.

Barnewall has the Trail Blazers behind the Timberwolves at No. 5 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 7.

• AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today has the Trail Blazers at No. 6 this week, four spots better than last week...

Star point guard Damian Lillard poured in 36 points (on 18 shots) and 13 assists in Sunday's win over Oklahoma City, becoming the first Portland player to reach those marks since Clyde Drexler in 1986. It was his fourth consecutive 30-plus point game.

Neuharth-Keusch has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 5 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 7.

• Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 7 this week, four spots better than last week...

Remember when Damian Lillard was struggling to start the season? We don’t either, especially not after he dropped a 32-6-5 line in the Portland Trail Blazers‘ win over the Lakers and a 36-13-5 in a win over the Thunder.

As if that wasn’t good enough, what better way to end a two-game losing streak and make up for an overtime defeat against Utah than nailing the game-winner over L.A. and then coming up clutch again late against OKC?

Bourguet has the Trail Blazers behind the Timberwolves at No. 6 and ahead of the Magic at No. 8.

• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on November 4, has the Trail Blazers at No. 14 this week, three spots worse than last week...

Most preseason forecasts for the Portland Trail Blazers included some variation on the idea that hope was warranted, but only if the 2016-17 stretch-run version of the team was for real. That included the presumption that Jusuf Nurkic would sustain the career-best production he showed in 20 games after coming over from the Nuggets last season.

Oddly, the Blazers have been fine without getting much from Nurkic, whose counting numbers resemble last year's with a much lower field-goal percentage.

He's been fine on defense, and if his offensive efficiency returns, maybe Portland really will ascend in the West.

One positive worth monitoring for regression: The Blazers spent most of the first two weeks leading the league in rebound rate, and they have Ed Davis to thank for that. He's inhaling nearly one-fifth of available offensive boards. There's no sustaining that, but it has so far helped Portland rank among the top five in second-chance points.

Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 13 and ahead of the Hornets at No. 15.

• Tommy Beer at Rotoworld has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 this week...

Speaking of players on a scoring surge, Damian Lillard has scored at least 30 points in four straight for the Blazers. He’s averaging 34.3 points, 7.0 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 treys over that stretch. He pumped in a season-high 36 points and dished out 13 dimes in Portland’s impressive win over the Thunder on Sunday.

Beer has the Trail Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 7 and ahead of the Clippers at No. 9.

• Kurt Helin of NBC Sports, in rankings posted on November 1 (come on guys), has the Trail Blazers at No. 13, five spots worse than... whenever it was they last put out rankings...

That six-point quarter against Toronto was UGLY, but let’s not dwell on it. The Blazers are the second-best offensive rebounding team in the NBA to start the season, grabbing a ridiculous 28.6 percent of their missed shots. Portland has had a soft schedule to start the season, when they have faced quality teams such as the Clippers and Raptors they lost. The next week sees the Jazz, Thunder, and Grizzlies, and we’ll get a better sense of how good this team really is.

Though you wouldn't know it from the incorrectly placed logos in that link, Helin has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 12 and ahead of the Timberwolves at No. 14.