As the NBA season approaches the All-Star break, the Portland Trail Blazers have put themselves in a solid position with the playoffs creeping closer and closer. The team currently sits in fourth place in a crowded Western Conference, and is coming off of a 3-1 week that featured wins over the Jazz, Suns and Hawks. The hot stretch is reflected in this week’s Power Rankings round-up.
ESPN has the team ninth, up from 11th a week ago. Marc J. Spears thinks Damian Lillard has another All-Star appearance in his future:
Point guard Damian Lillard is hopeful to be named an All-Star for the fourth time and second year in a row on Thursday, when the reserves are named. Lillard is averaging 26.2 points, 6.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals this season. The Blazers are helping his cause with the West’s fourth-best record entering the week.
CBS Sports placed Portland in the 10th spot, but Reid Forgrave is concerned they may be doomed to a familiar fate come playoff time:
Single biggest question: Can the Blazers break out of that good-but-not-great malaise they feel destined to stay in in this roster’s current iteration? As good as Damian Lillard is, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where the Blazers get out of the second round of the playoffs. Maybe this is boiling things down too much, but they just don’t have enough good players, especially on the wing.
Sports Illustrated also pegged the Blazers 10th. Khadrice Rollins notes that CJ McCollum could play the single-biggest role going down the stretch:
It’s not that it’s been a down year for CJ McCollum, but it’s the second straight season his scoring and three-point field goal percentage have declined and third consecutive season his assists have dwindled.
However, this past week he had a 21-point quarter and then chipped in 28 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds as he earned his first career triple double with Damian Lillard sitting out. With so many questions about the bench in Portland, getting even more out of CJ could be the difference in determining where this team finishes in the standings.
Thanks to a bizarre scheduling quirk, the Blazers (31-20) have just one game this week—Wednesday night against the Jazz in Portland. The game holds significant implications, as it is the final regular season meeting between the two teams with Utah leading the series 2-1.