Only six weeks remain in the NBA regular season and the Portland Trail Blazers have their work cut out for them. They’ve only accrued one win in the six games Damian Lillard has missed with a groin injury and are currently 12th in the Western Conference standings.
With Lillard hopefully returning soon and a softer schedule coming up, can they claw their way back to an eighth seed? Here’s what other outlets are saying.
ESPN’s Royce Young ranked the Blazers 20th in the latest power rankings, writing that Lillard returning from injury and a soft upcoming schedule gives them a chance but that time is not on their side.
The Blazers are 1-5 since Damian Lillard suffered a groin injury, and they may not be able to survive his absence. Although he’s due back soon and the schedule softens significantly (Orlando, Washington, Phoenix, Sacramento and Phoenix are the Blazers’ next five opponents), time is starting to run out. Lillard’s return gives the Blazers a chance again — they’ve been a disaster on defense this season, ranking 27th in defensive rating, ahead of only the Cavaliers, Hawks and Wizards.
Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated has Portland 19th, taking aim at the play of Hassan Whiteside and Portland’s defense.
Hassan Whiteside said he thinks he belongs in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation after Portland’s victory over the Pistons on Feb. 23. Is he watching the same games we are? Whiteside is a prolific shot blocker, sure, though he is severely lacking as a team defender. Portland is No. 27 in defensive rating. Only three teams sport a worse defensive rebounding percentage. It’s been the same old story with Whiteside for years now. The Blazers will receive a serious bump replacing Whiteside with Jusuf Nurkic next season.
Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes dropped Portland all the way to 22nd, citing this recent run from the Blazers as evidence that they are just not that good without Lillard.
Sometimes, teams rally when their best player goes out. Role-fillers take on increased burdens, secondary stars shift into primary position, and the whole operation benefits from a collective elevation in focus.
Not so with the Blazers, who are 1-4 in their five games since the All-Star break without Damian Lillard.
It may just be because Lillard’s absence means opponents aren’t taking the ball out of the basket and facing a set defense as often, but it’s still a little surprising that Portland’s defense has been worse without its top scoring threat. The Blazers are allowing 116.3 points per 100 possessions since the break, three points worse than they permitted before it.
Until Lillard comes back, the Blazers are easily a bottom-10 team.
Finally, Colin Ward-Henniger of CBS Sports put the Blazers 20th in his latest rankings, noting that productive play from CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside aren’t enough to make up for Lillard’s absence.
The Blazers dropped all three games this week as Damian Lillard continues to nurse a groin injury, and lost valuable ground in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. CJ McCollum has been carrying the offense in Lillard’s absence, averaging over 30 points and nearly eight assists over his last three games. Hassan Whiteside also put up monster numbers this week, averaging 19 points, 16 rebounds and almost three blocks per game.