The Portland Trail Blazers are officially 4-2 in the bubble, going 3-1 since the last power rankings by squeaking out victories against some teams playing without their biggest stars. While that may be cause for concern for some Blazer fans, you can only play who’s in front of you, and their victories in Orlando currently have them just half a game back of the coveted eighth spot in the west.
How do writers around the league see Portland’s performance these past four games? Let’s take a look.
ESPN’s Royce Young moved the Blazers up to 12th in the latest rankings, praising star player Damian Lillard for his calm intensity when faced with adversity.
Two uncharacteristic missed free throws from Damian Lillard on Saturday cost the Blazers the game against the Clippers, but he bounced back about an hour later on Instagram with a vicious clapback. Then he followed that up with 51 points against the 76ers on Sunday to keep the Blazers in position for the play-in series. Lillard is as cool and collected as they come, but there might be no better player at talking the talk and walking the walk than him. There are two games left this week, against the Mavs and Nets, to settle step one — getting in the play-in.
The Athletic’s Zach Harper has Portland at 13th, a four-spot jump from last week’s rankings. Harper thinks the Blazers are in good position to grab the final playoff spot in the conference.
Despite two almost unbelievable clutch free throw misses from Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers are still in great shape. The return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, along with the extended role for Gary Trent Jr., have transformed what was once a pretty anemic Blazers rotation. Now Lillard and CJ McCollum have a ton of help on both ends of the floor, allowing them to focus on carrying the offensive load. They have players who can counter adjustments by the defense, which they didn’t really have before. It was either Dame and CJ are superheroes, or they lose. And sometimes the superhero thing didn’t bring wins. Carmelo Anthony hitting clutch shots just makes them look so ready to snag the 8-seed.
Collin Ward-Henniger of CBS Sports moved the Blazers up big time, with Portland securing 7th in his power rankings. Ward-Henniger also praised Lillard for his 51-point performance against the 76ers and thinks Portland can overtake the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed.
The only game the Blazers lost this week was the one the Clippers were seemingly trying to lose on purpose, but we quickly found out what happens when you make Damian Lillard mad. Patrick Beverley mocked Lillard for missing two clutch free throws, and the very next night Lillard dropped 51 points in a win over the Sixers. Portland now trails the Grizzlies by a half-game, with the ability to get the No. 8 seed and therefore only need to beat the No. 9 seed once to get into the playoffs.
Portland’s next matchup will be against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. PT.