The Portland Trail Blazers gained a little ground in the Week 14 NBA power rankings after a 2-2 slate. They lost to the Orlando Magic and the Cleveland Cavaliers while defeating the Dallas Mavericks twice in a back-to-back set. Those wins represent a change in momentum, as Portland had been on a five-game losing streak.
Here is what the national media had to say about the Trail Blazers’ turnaround.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 20 (previously No. 22)
At one point this season, the Blazers were 5-1 in clutch games, with game-winners in the final 10 seconds of four of those five wins. But clutch is fleeting, and Portland has lost its last eight games that were within five points in the last five minutes, falling to 9-14 in the clutch for the season. Over those eight close losses over the last four weeks, the Blazers have scored a paltry 34 points on 53 clutch possessions (64.2 per 100), with Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant a combined 6-for-23 on clutch shots, including 0-for-12 on clutch 3-pointers. Grant, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons all missed 3s for the tie on the Blazers’ final possession against Orlando on Tuesday, and the Blazers had as many turnovers (3) as scores (3) on a nine-possession stretch that turned a late, five-point lead into an eight-point deficit against Cleveland two nights later.
The offense was good over the weekend, when the Blazers registered two of their three most efficient offensive performances of the season, scoring an amazing 141 points per 100 possessions as they swept a two-game series with Dallas. Lillard (who had 50 in the loss to the Cavs) totaled 76 points over the two wins, shooting 21-for-37 (57%) from the field and 26-for-26 from the line.
The two wins have the Blazers back within a game of .500 and also with a game in the loss column of the fifth-place Mavs. The lone road game on this stretch where they’re are playing 10 of 11 at home is Tuesday in Denver. Prior to Saturday, the Blazers’ most efficient offensive game of the season (135 points on 96 possessions) was against the Nuggets, back in October. But the Nuggets have won the last two meetings, even though the Blazers led both at the half.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 18 (previously No. 18)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Trail Blazers have an excellent offense, and their defense is keeping them from being a lot better. While the Blazers seem more well-rounded thanks to Jerami Grant, they still have to find a way to get stops. The offense is probably going to carry them because I don’t know how much more you can squeeze out of this personnel defensively. They shoot the ball well and get to the free-throw line a ton, so they’ve just got to cut down on turnovers to help them climb and stay above a .500 record.
Prediction update: Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons combine to average at least 50.0 points per game. … This crazy scoring stretch from Lillard put the duo back over 50.0 points per game combined (50.7) for the season. Lillard is at 28.8 and Simons is at 21.9, but I don’t feel confident in this one.
Kyle Wood, Sports Illustrated: No. 14 (previously No. 15)
Damian Lillard went on a tear last week, but it netted his team only two wins in four tries. He went for 30 in a three-point loss to the Magic then a season-high 50 against the Cavaliers. Even that wasn’t enough and Portland dropped its fifth in a row. Over the weekend, the Trail Blazers teed off on the Mavericks, lighting them up for 136 and 140 in convincing wins. Lillard went for 36 and 40 and Portland won back-to-back games for the first time in a month. The Blazers head to Denver on Tuesday barely hanging on to a half game lead for the final play-in spot in the conference.