In a shortened week for the whole NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers went .500, taking a critical double-digit loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday but earning a gritty victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. With no Damian Lillard to anchor the team, CJ McCollum has helped shoulder the burden, putting on display his talents as a playmaker for both himself and others.
But even with stellar performances from McCollum and Carmelo Anthony against Detroit, the Blazers still find themselves looking for ways to sneak back into the eighth seed of the playoffs. Here’s where experts have them ranked among the rest of the NBA.
ESPN’s Royce Young has the Blazers 18th, saying that while it’s good they didn’t go winless last week they still have to find a way to close the gap for the eighth seed ASAP.
It wasn’t technically a must-win game against the Pistons on Sunday, but let’s call it a you’d-better-not-lose contest. And the Trail Blazers didn’t, squeaking by behind 41 points from CJ McCollum and 32 from Carmelo Anthony. They are four games behind Memphis in the loss column for the eighth playoff spot in the West, and they’re running out of time. Damian Lillard is coming back from his groin injury soon, but the Blazers are probably going to need another miraculous run from him to close the gap. The schedule is pretty favorable to close, but as inconsistent as Portland has been, that might not even matter.
Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated put the Blazers 15th, pointing to the defensive rebounding differential as a significant reason for their downslide.
When searching for an answer for Portland’s slide in the Western Conference this season, a simple answer arises on the boards. The Blazers are No. 27 in defensive rebounding and just three spots better in rebounding percentage, consistently losing the boards battle on a given night. This shouldn’t be the case for a team with a mammoth center, but as is usually the case with Hassan Whiteside, his individual statistics far outpace his team impact. Jusuf Nurkic’s absence has been crushing after a run to last year’s Western Conference finals.
Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey ranked Portland 19th, emphasizing the importance of these next few games without Lillard.
The next few weeks of Blazers basketball could make or break the season.
”Damian Lillard (right groin strain) did not practice today,” Portland reporter Casey Holdahl revealed Thursday, “said he thinks he might miss three or four games.”
The Blazers have already dropped one crucial game to the New Orleans Pelicans since that news. If they continue to slip against the string of Eastern Conference teams they have coming up, their playoff chances could be doomed.
Over the course of this season, Portland is plus-1.4 points per 100 possessions with Dame on the floor and minus-10.4 with him off.
Finally, Colin Ward-Henniger of CBS Sports has the Blazers 18th, noting the loss to New Orleans cost them the tiebreaker and could drastically affect their season.
Portland lost to the Pelicans for the fourth time this season to start the week, giving New Orleans the tiebreaker if the teams are dead even for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They bounced back to beat the Pistons behind 41 points, 12 asssits and nine rebounds from CJ McCollum, and 32 points from Carmelo Anthony with Damian Lillard still out of the lineup with a groin injury. Portland now sits three games out of the eighth seed, but only 2.5 games up on the No. 13 Suns.
The Blazers face three Eastern Conference opponents this week, starting with a home game against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. PT.