The first edition of weekly power rankings are popping up after the first week of games. The Portland Trail Blazers have jumped out to a stellar 3-0 to start the year, gaining wins over the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, and Phoenix Suns.
Despite winning all three of their first games the Blazers jumped up just one spot in Zach Harper’s first edition from their preseason ranking to 17th and in tier four.
Tier 4: Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better
17. Portland Trail Blazers (previously 18th) | 3-0 | +2.9 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Kings, Win over Suns, Win at Lakers
First impressions: The Portland Trail Blazers got an instant reminder of the joys of having Damian Lillard. He has been such an incredible threat in the start to this season. What I love about this Portland start is you can say the Blazers are a couple bounces away from being 0-3 — which is true — but also they’ve had a more complete attack at the end of games. Anfernee Simons was a hero against Phoenix. Jerami Grant was a hero in Los Angeles. The attack here by Portland has the chance to be more robust and not just rely on Lillard. Such a fun start to the season for this team.
How do they move up to Playoff Teams tier? They’re right on the edge. The win over Phoenix was a great victory for them. They’re winning tight games, which should be a good sign, but it also could just be a coin flip randomness. They’ve also beaten two bad teams, so I’m not quite moving them up yet. But it’s right on the border
John Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Blazers rounding out the top 10, way up from 21 following their 1-4 preseason record. This slots them just above the Cleveland Cavaliers and just below the New Orleans Pelicans.
After a pretty brutal preseason, the Blazers are 3-0 in the games that count. Their total point differential through the three games is just 11 points, and two of the three teams they’ve beat – the Kings and Lakers – are otherwise 0-4. But 3-0 is 3-0, and one of those clutch wins came against the best clutch team of the last two years. The offense hasn’t been ridiculously efficient down the stretch (44 points on 35 clutch possessions), but it also hasn’t been Damian-Lillard-heavy. All five Portland starters have contributed with key buckets, with Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant getting the game-winners (on two really impressive drives) over the weekend.
Most encouraging is that the Blazers have a top-five defense. It really helps that their opponents have shot less than 32% from 3-point range, but they also rank high in both opponent free throw rate (fourth) and defensive rebounding percentage (seventh), two numbers that are certainly more in their control. Jusuf Nurkic (28.3%) ranks seventh in overall defensive rebounding percentage and Josh Hart (21.4%) ranks second among players 6-6 and shorter.
Portland has a lot to prove with upcoming matchups against the Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, and Houston Rockets on the slate for this coming week to prove if their start to the season was a fluke or if it will be the norm going forward.
You can read Zach Harper’s full power rankings here.
You can read John Schuhmann’s full power rankings here.