It was an up and down week for the Portland Trail Blazers. They went .500 with some stellar wins against the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards and embarrassing losses against the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings. The season is winding down and the Blazers find themselves in 11th place among their Western Conference counterparts.
They might be 11th in their conference, but where do they stand among the rest of the NBA? Here’s where they’re ranked among other outlets.
Royce Young of ESPN has the Blazers 19th, saying that the return of Damian Lillard and expected return of Jusuf Nurkic give them a boost, but might be too little too late.
Damian Lillard returned this week, and though it’s obviously a vital boost, it didn’t immediately solve everything for Portland. The Blazers went 1-2, with losses in winnable games against the Suns and Kings. Jusuf Nurkic’s reported return next week will be emotional and will surely send a charge into the Blazers, but the hole that has been dug might be too deep for this team to crawl out of.
Sports Illustrated’s Michael Shapiro also ranked Portland 19th, noting that Nurkic’s late return isn’t something to be overlooked even if the impact isn’t felt this season.
It may be too little too late for Jusuf Nurkic to help guide the Blazers to the playoffs, though his presence will be greatly appreciated in place of Hassan Whiteside next season. Nurkic led Portland in net rating last season. He finished in the top 12 in blocks and rebounds per game last season. Adding a potential All-Star center is no small thing as Portland looks to reassert itself as a playoff stalwart.
Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report has Portland 18th, citing the still horrific defense while giving props to CJ McCollum.
Portland went 2-2 this past week (1-2 in the three games since Damian Lillard’s return), and it could make a run for the West’s eighth spot if it capitalizes on a schedule that grades out as easier than either the Memphis Grizzlies’ or the Sacramento Kings’.
To make up ground, the Blazers have to defend.
That won’t necessarily get easier with Lillard back on the floor, but it wouldn’t take much for Portland to improve on its level of play to this point. The Blazers are 27th in points allowed per possession and haven’t been much better than that since the All-Star break.
Oh, and now that it’s over, let’s appreciate CJ McCollum’s work during Lillard’s time away. Portland’s other standout scorer averaged 33.3 points and 8.3 assists with a 48.4/40.6/76.5 shooting split in six games sans Dame. That’s just more evidence that McCollum is among the most overqualified second bananas in the league.
Finally, CBS Sports’ Colin Ward-Henniger ranked the Blazers 19th, pointing out that Lillard’s first week back wasn’t as productive as Portland would’ve hoped but credited McCollum with keeping the offense alive.
Things were supposed to get better for the Blazers with the return of Damian Lillard. Instead, they’ve lost two of the three games since his return, including bad ones to the Suns and Kings — two teams trying to beat them to a playoff spot. CJ McCollum carried the offense with Lillard out, and he continued his excellence this week, averaging 26.8 points, six assists and 4.5 rebounds over four games. Portland is five games back of the Grizzlies in the loss column for the final Western Conference playoff slot.
Portland will have a chance to exact some revenge on the Suns tomorrow at the Moda Center. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. PT.