After a light week on the schedule, the Portland Trail Blazers held position in this week’s NBA Power Rankings from NBA.com and Sports Illustrated, even climbing a little in The Athletic’s rankings. The Trail Blazers went 1-1, losing in a nail-biter to the Denver Nuggets and winning in a close game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Each outlet took note of star guard Damian Lillard’s 40-point outburst in the loss to Denver. Here’s what they had to say.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 10 (previously No. 10)
The Blazers are one of three teams — the Mavs and Suns are the others — that have lost multiple games that they led by double-digits in the fourth quarter. The second of their two such losses came Thursday against Denver, when (with mostly reserves on the floor) they lost an 11-point lead early in the fourth. The game went down to the wire, but Damian Lillard was out-dueled by Jamal Murray in the final seconds, spoiling a game in which Lillard had 40 points and 12 assists with just one turnover. (The Blazers had won 12 of their previous 13 regular season games in which Lillard had scored at least 40.)
The Blazers also have the league’s best record (9-9) in games they trailed by double-digits (at any point). The most recent of those nine wins came Saturday, when they trailed by 10 midway through the third quarter before outscoring the Wolves by 19 points (27-8) over the next eight minutes. With Lillard healthy (and 22-for-22 from the line) and with Anfernee Simons having a big game (31 points on 13-for-22 shooting) on Saturday, the two games last week were just the fifth and sixth times that the Blazers have scored at least 120 points per 100 possessions (and the first time they’ve done it in consecutive games). Another one like that against the Wolves on Monday and they’ll probably crack the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 14 (previously No. 16)
Takeaway: The Blazers have had a successful start to the season, but their quarter-by-quarter breakdown is average. It leaves the Blazers as a coin flip to win or lose a lot of these games, and that’s going to lead to some streakiness for their season. They need a bit more stability, and it would really help them to get out to leads and try to maintain them rather than chasing quarters as much as they do.
The good news is the Damian Lillard effect — aka Dame Time — is still very much a thing. Even in that game they lost to Denver, he was exceptional down the stretch. Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons have joined him in making big plays, so maybe the Blazers do just need to get to these coin flips and let Dame and company take over.
Kyle Wood, Sports Illustrated: No. 13 (previously No. 13)
Damian Lillard’s 40-point game against the Nuggets was spoiled by Murray’s last-second three. He turned in another vintage outing a few nights later, which, combined with 31 from Anfernee Simons, was enough to get past the Timberwolves. It was a light week for Portland, which aside from Gary Payton II (who has yet to make his debut as a Blazer), is healthy once again. Monday brings another game against Minnesota and then a six-game road trip starts up Wednesday in San Antonio.
Next up: A rematch with Minnesota.