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Blazers Rise in Power Rankings After Solid Start to New Year

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Despite being without Damian Lillard for two games last week, the Trail Blazers went 3-1, and drew praise from the national media.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It has been an excellent start to the new year for the Portland Trail Blazers, even while Damian Lillard nurses a nagging hamstring injury. The team beat the red-hot Bulls, the Hawks and the Spurs, while suffering their only loss against the Cavaliers in Cleveland. That was enough for Portland to see a steady rise in this week’s NBA power rankings.

ESPN ranked the Blazers 12th, up one spot from last week, and noted the rarity of defeating the Spurs in a high-scoring regulation game:

C.J. McCollum’s jumper with 5 seconds remaining gave the Blazers a 111-110 victory over the Spurs on Sunday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, San Antonio had won 143 of its previous 144 games regulation games in which it scored at least 110 points, dating back to March 2011.

CBS Sports placed the team 10th, up four spots from last week. Chris Barnewall praised Shabazz Napier’s play in Lillard’s absence:

With Damian Lillard out, the Blazers have been looking to Shabazz Napier to carry the load in his place. Obviously, Napier doesn’t pack the same scoring punch, but he has gone from someone that might be out of the NBA to one of the better backup point guards in a hurry.

Sports Illustrated pegged Portland at 11, up from 14th a week ago. Kenny Ducey was also impressed with Napier:

Shabazz Napier looks like a real point guard out there; he seems to be in control at all times, he’s setting his teammates up with great passes and he’s scoring the basketball. The Blazers will have to find a way to get him on the court a little more when Damian Lillard returns. Perhaps his emergence will help keep Dame fresh for the postseason.

The Trail Blazers (21-18) are on a brutal road trip this week. They’ll play the Thunder on Tuesday, the Rockets on Wednesday, the Pelicans on Friday and the Timberwolves on Sunday.