POWER RANKINGS » The Other Guys Shine In Week 13
By Desmond Johnson
It’s been “next man up” in Portland for the Trail Blazers who have now reeled off two wins in a row without the services of their three highest-paid players in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell. The other guys have stepped up given extended minutes and they look like they’re having fun doing it. The Blazers, down four starters, beat the Nets Monday night with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Anfernee Simons took his playmaking to another level finishing with a career-high 11 assists and continually getting to the paint for tough buckets including a circus layup that was good for #6 on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays.
Simons has been averaging 27.8 PPG and 7.6 APG on 51.1% FG and 44.6 % 3-PT over the last five games with Dame and CJ out. In the week following his grandfather’s tragic passing, Simons has now recorded career highs in points, assists, field goals made, three-pointers made, and free throws made. Others have stepped up big as well and Portland has been spreading the love on offense, having five-or-more players score in double figures in four of the last five games. “When stars are there, you know you have everybody obviously deferring to the better players,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups, “but now, we just hooping. We just hooping so I’m not surprised because I see the work these guys put in.” Billups also applauded the work that his staff has been doing with player development.
Visually, this team has shown the physicality and effort in these last two wins that coach Billups has preached throughout the year, and the defense has been free of glaring breakdowns throughout long stretches of games. Even the losses to Cleveland and Miami were close and physical throughout before slipping away at the end, particularly compared to some of the blowout losses that the Trail Blazers suffered to close out 2021. Portland has allowed only 103.3 PPG across the last three contests, good for seventh-best in the league over that span and significantly better than the 112.5 PPG allowed on the season.
The Trail Blazers have played 15 of their last 19 games at home and gone 6-9 in those home games. Between injuries and health-and-safety protocols shaking up the roster, Portland wasn’t exactly able to take advantage of this home-heavy stretch of the schedule. Injury and Covid-related absences have however provided the opportunity for extended minutes and likely accelerated player development for some of the younger players on the team. “No matter who’s available, we’re all competitors. For me, I just want to prove myself as a player who can generate wins for a team,” said Anfernee Simons following Portland’s victory over Brooklyn on Monday. Having now reeled off two wins in a row, the opportunity for these players to get more minutes is already proving fruitful for the Trail Blazers.
The time comes yet again to see if Portland can take this show on the road with a two-week, six-game road trip kicking off against the Nuggets on Thursday. The Trail Blazers still have just two road wins on the year, a league low. As of now, Portland sits in the 10th and final play-in spot in the west. With Damian Lillard not making the trip and McCollum still out, it will be up to Simons and co. to bring this newfound mojo on the road.
This upcoming road trip will take us through the halfway point of the 2021-22 NBA season. At 16-24, Portland still sits in the bottom 10 of the power rankings, but the performance of “the other guys” stepping up in the face of adversity has provided this team with the spark needed to grind out a couple of timely victories leading to a slight uptick in this week's rankings, coming in as low as No. 26 and as high as No. 23. Here’s where the Trail Blazers sit in the 13th edition of the weekly power rankings with 40 games down and 42 to go.
• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 24 this week, three spots better than last week...
Anfernee Simons had the worst effective field goal percentage (40.7%) in December among 202 players with at least 75 field goal attempts last month. But it’s a new month (a new year, even), and January has brought three of the four highest-scoring games of Simons’ career. His effective field goal percentage of 70.7% in January ranks fifth among 150 players with at least 35 field goal attempts this month and the Blazers (still playing without both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum) have scored 121.5 points per 100 possessions in his 147 minutes on the floor. Twenty-three of his 38 January buckets have come from beyond the arc, but his 14 points against Cleveland on Friday (the one January game not in his top four) included a bucket where he drove past Evan Mobley and finished around Jarrett Allen.
More important is that the Blazers are 2-2 this month, having outlasted the Hawks in a 136-131 barn-burner on Monday and having won ugly against the Kings on Sunday. This team went 3-9 between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and it’s currently tied for the last Play-In spot in the West. Of course, Lillard may be out a while longer, McCollum’s return might be delayed by the birth of his first child, and Norman Powell entered Health and Safety Protocols on Sunday.
The Blazers have played the league’s most home-heavy schedule thus far (24 of 39 at the Moda Center) and they host the Nets with a rest advantage on Monday. They still have the fewest road wins in the league (they’re 2-13) and their longest road trip of the season — six games over 11 days — begins in Denver on Thursday.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 23 and ahead of the Kings at No. 24.
• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 25 this week, the same as last week...
Already without Damian Lillard (abdomen) and CJ McCollum, the Blazers lost Norman Powell to health and safety protocols. But Anfernee Simons scored 31 points to help Portland beat Sacramento and at least give the Blazers something to feel good about. Portland entered Sunday having lost 16 of its previous 21 games. After a home game against the Nets and a fresh Kyrie Irving, the Blazers hit the road for six straight. It will continue to be the Simons show if Lillard and McCollum don't return anytime soon.
The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 24 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 26.
• Zach Harper at The Athletic has the Trail Blazers at No. 23 this week, one spot better than last week...
Biggest takeaway from the hardship era: Does it feel like we’re going to see Damian Lillard anytime soon? I think the near future of the Portland Trail Blazers doesn’t involve him. Not because he’s going to demand a trade, but because he is going to continue to miss a lot of time with this abdominal injury. The Blazers have a six-game road trip coming up, and it doesn’t sound like Lillard is going to make that trip. That means a lot of Anfernee Simons, and he’s been on a really good run since the tragic passing of his grandfather. Simons is getting the opportunity to show what he can do consistently, and he’s capitalizing on it. The Blazers season isn’t going well, and it doesn’t seem as if it’ll turn around any time soon, but at least there’s some fun hope with how Simons is playing.
Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 22 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 24.
• Chris Herring at Sports Illustrated has the Trail Blazers at No. 26 this week, the same as last week...
Just days after saying that franchise player Damian Lillard could sit out for an extended period of time if his nagging abdominal injury doesn’t show signs of improvement soon, Blazers coach Chauncey Billups told reporters Sunday that Lillard wouldn’t be traveling for the club’s upcoming seven-game road trip. Instead, the All-NBA guard will meet with a specialist to determine what he should do next. Lillard is in the midst of a career-worst shooting season as Portland stands tied for 10th place in the West, meaning the Blazers are alive in the race for one of the last few play-in spots.
Herring has the Trail Blazers behind the Pelicans at No. 25 and ahead of the Thunder at No. 27.