POWER RANKINGS » The Wrong Direction In Week 18

by Casey Holdahl
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If the Trail Blazers had been playing horseshoes or lobbing hand grenades, their performances last week wouldn't have been all that detrimental. But considering their primary stock-in-trade is NBA basketball, losing four games last week (we'll get to the SECOND loss to the Grizzlies on Sunday next week), albeit by a combined total of 12 points, greatly diminished their chances of ending the regular season in the Top 6, and thus, avoiding the play-in tournament. What's more, after spending the majority of 2021 in fifth or sixth, the Trail Blazers are a couple more losses away from dropping all the way down to tenth, which is the last spot included in the play-in. Though if they end up falling that far with 12 games to play, making the postseason probably becomes less of a goal and more of a requirement. 

But there's still time to get things moving in the right direction. Is losing five-straight, with the last four of those occurring at the Moda Center, before heading out on a 10-day, six-game road trip usually the best environment for such a turnaround? Probably not, but if the Trail Blazers want to at all salvage what up until a few weeks ago looked like a relatively successful season, they'll have to start that reclamation project on the road, and soon. 

Here's how the Trail Blazers came out in the most recent edition of the weekly Power Rankings...

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

The Blazers have lost five straight and eight of 10. They've slipped into the play-in spot, now two games behind the Mavericks in the loss column. Diagnosing the Blazers is complicated, but Damian Lillard summarized it this way after Sunday's loss to Memphis: "I'm not playing well enough. I'm on the floor because that gives our team the best chance to win, and I've got to be better." 

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

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

Given how poorly they defend, how much they were depending on clutch shooting, and how (relatively) easy their schedule had been through the first few days of April, the Blazers had a pretty thin margin for error for a team that was 11 games over .500. And the tables (except the defense one) have turned as they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games to fall out of the top six in the West.

They haven’t lost to any bad teams and each of the Blazers’ four games last week were within three points in the final minute. Damian Lillard missed the first game, but shot 0-for-5 on clutch 3s over the other three. CJ McCollum missed a game-winning jumper against the Clippers, Norman Powell missed a game-winning runner against the Nuggets, and Jusuf Nurkic missed a point-blank, reverse layup to take the lead against the Grizzlies.

Clutch is fleeting.

With just a game and a half separating them from the 10th-place Warriors, the Blazers are in danger of slipping further down the standings. Their visit to Indiana on Tuesday is the start of a six-game trip and a stretch of 11 games (with four back-to-backs) in 17 days. They’ll have a rest disadvantage (playing the second game of a back-to-back against a rested opponent) for their final meeting with the Grizzlies on Wednesday.

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

• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 19, another three-spot drop from last week's rankings...

This was an excruciating week for Portland, losing three games by a total of four points before falling to the Grizzlies on Sunday to bring the losing streak to five games. It's been a rough stretch for the Blazers, who are now tied with the No. 8 Grizzlies in the loss column and are just a game and a half ahead of the No. 10 Warriors in the West. Damian Lillard shot just 29 percent from 3-point range in three games this week after returning from a hamstring injury, while Jusuf Nurkic put up 16.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in three games.

Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Hornets at No. 18 and ahead of Tuesday's opponent, the Pacers, at No. 20. 

• Mo Dakhil at Bleacher Report has the Trail Blazers at No. 16 this week, which is (you guessed it) three spots worse than their previous ranking...

Portland is struggling right now. The team has lost five in a row, three of which were by a combined four points. With how bad their defense is, the Blazers’ margin of error is razor-thin. They cannot survive when they are shooting 35.3 percent from three as a team like Portland did in the last week.

Damian Lillard missed three games, but since he’s returned, he has not found his shot. Shooting just 29.0 percent from three will always put Portland in a bad spot. CJ McCollum and Norman Powell are also struggling from deep.

The Blazers' current five-game losing streak has them in a heated race with the Mavericks to avoid the play-in game. Next week gets even tougher for Portland as the Blazers head out on a six-game road trip.

Dakhil has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 15 and ahead of the Hornets at No. 17. 

• Zach Harper at The Athletic has the Trail Blazers at No. 16 this week, a two-spot drop from last week...

Probably should have dropped Portland more than just a couple spots with how bad this week was. The Blazers have been dealing with some injuries, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt a little here. They need to bounce back immediately.

Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 15 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 17.

• Corey Rausch at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 18 this week, four spots worse than last week...

The struggles continue for the Portland Trail Blazers as losers of four in a row and nine of their last 15 games. Damian Lillard has been struggling with injuries, leading to him also struggling with on-court effectiveness. Over the last week, he has shot just 37.8 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent from distance. For a team that needs Lillard to remain in Dame Time mode at all times, this is disastrous.

The seat that Terry Stotts is sitting on is getting increasingly hotter. There have been reports that while he is going to obviously be given the chance to coach the rest of this season, the future beyond that point is murky. The Blazers have made the postseason in each season Stotts has been at the helm but eventually a change of voice is needed to get the team over the hump. Many questions have been asked about his rotations of late and the defensive effort overall, the latter of which should not necessarily fall on the coach.

Truth be told, the defensive personnel for this team is lacking. Derrick Jones Jr. was brought in as the nominal go-to defensive stopper. The backcourt for the Blazers is offensively elite but defensively less than average. With the knowledge that the Blazers have needed to rely on second-year prospect Nassir Little for much for their defensive impact, it is hard to blame a coach for the lack of defensive ability.

Rausch has the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 17 and ahead of the Hornets at No. 19. 

• The folks up north at The Score have the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, a two-spot drop from last week...

Opposing defenses have excelled at limiting Damian Lillard's powers amid a 3-9 slide that's put a top-six spot in peril. Only three of the Blazers' last 12 contests come against sub-.500 sides.

The Score has the Trail Blazers behind the Hawks at No. 12 and ahead of the Heat at No. 14. 

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