The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a 5-1 start and sit atop the Western Conference standings.
Portland’s success has caught the attention of the national media, receiving the No. 9 slot from The Athletic’s Zach Harper on this week’s list. While the ranking may not reflect the team’s current placement atop the Western Conference, it does represent yet another significant leap in the national media’s week-to-week assessment.
Portland Trail Blazers (previously 17th) | 5-1 | +4.6 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Nuggets, Loss to Heat, Win over Rockets
Cause for optimism: What a tremendous start to the regular season for the Portland Trail Blazers as they’ve tried to wash themselves free of the stink of last season’s tank job. Damian Lillard has been stellar (prior to the calf strain), and we’re seeing the additions of some competent players throughout help the defense up to this point. You have to be excited about the energy from Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe so far. Simons is actually there to be a mainstay now, and they’ll see if Sharpe can work his way even more into the rotation. Fun, successful start for the Blazers.
Cause for concern: The Lillard injury, even if it’s not significant right now, does give me a little bit of worry. He’s battled injuries before, and this team probably can’t hold up over an extended stretch without him. He’s probably fine, but you don’t want this stuff to linger and possibly cause any other issues. The Blazers need a healthy Lillard to really make some noise in the West.
HIGHLIGHTS ON THE BEAT: NBA, don’t screw this up. Put Sharpe in the dunk contest.
Funny enough, the cause for concern here is not super high, which speaks to how hard it is to criticize the Trail Blazers’ play of late. Any team would struggle if their star(s) missed extended time, but Lillard is already expected to make his return during the team’s upcoming road trip or soon after. Meanwhile, the team is winning (at least against the Rockets) without him, and the calf strain is not considered serious at this time.
With all the optimism surrounding the team right now, it is almost surprising to see Portland ranked between the No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans (4-2) and the No. 10 Denver Nuggets (4-3). But power rankings have always been subjective, and a top-10 placement for a team that was expected to hover around No. 20 is still deeply encouraging.
The Trail Blazers move on to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, without Lillard, before starting a grueling six-game road trip. It will be interesting to see how well the team holds up and if it continues to headline as a pleasant surprise in weeks to come.