The Portland Trail Blazers won three of four games in their weekly slate, leading to a corresponding leap in the Week 17 NBA power rankings. First, they downed the Atlanta Hawks (129-125), then the Memphis Grizzlies (122-112), then the Washington Wizards (124-116), before losing to the Chicago Bulls (121-129).
The latter three games were all on the road, making it one impressive week for Portland. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann highlighted the play of All-Star guard Damian Lillard, while The Athletic’s Zach Harper examined the contributions of role player Justise Winslow. Here is what they had to say.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 20 (previously No. 24)
Damian Lillard has taken a career-high 55.4% of his shots from 3-point range, and he hit two straight 3-pointers (part of a 17-4 run) to give the Blazers the lead with less than two minutes left in Memphis on Wednesday. The win ended both Portland’s eight-game road losing streak and Memphis’ eight-game home winning streak.
But, while he’s shooting more from deep, Lillard can still get to the basket. And it was his quickness that got the Blazers a win against the Hawks two nights earlier. First, he rejected a screen and blew by Clint Capela for a layup to put the Blazers ahead with a little less than a minute left. After the Hawks tied the game again, he drove by Dejounte Murray, drew help, and fed Anfernee Simons for a go-ahead 3-pointer. Lillard’s 15.2 drives per game rank 10th are tied with his 15.2 in 2019-20 for the most he’s averaged in the 10 seasons of player tracking. Additionally, the 58.3% he’s shot on drives ranks 10th among the 116 players with at least 100 field goal attempts. His free throw rate (44.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field is also the best mark of his career by a wide margin, and he’s 74-for-77 (96%) from the line over his last seven games.
The Blazers’ victories in Memphis and Washington were their 12th and 13th in games they trailed by double-digits. And their loss in Chicago on Saturday (the third time in their last five games that they’ve allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions) was their 12th in a game they led by double-digits. Both of those totals, along with their six 3-pointers (on 11 attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, lead the league.
The Blazers’ remaining five pre-break games are at the Moda Center, and the homestand includes big games against the Warriors, Thunder and Lakers. Portland is currently 1-5 against those three teams.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 16 (previously No. 19)
Role player to highlight: Justise Winslow | 6.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists | 40.9/31.1/71.4 shooting splits
Winslow has always been a very intriguing wing option. His latest chance to gain more traction is happening in Portland, and there’s plenty to like. He’s not much of a scorer, and shot making has been a problem, but Winslow can still defend and is still a good playmaker. Having him somewhere in the No. 7 to No. 9 range in your rotation is about right. The Blazers have struggled defensively this season, but they’re much better with Winslow on the floor. The problem is he doesn’t contribute enough offensively, and that suffers more than he helps on defense. Ideally, he would be Jarred Vanderbilt for them, but that’s not the case.
Long-term outlook? Expiring $4 million contract. He’s a nice role player, but there’s nothing to suggest he’ll be a long-term fit.
Why did they move up? Really good week for them behind Damian Lillard’s brilliant play. Knocking on the door of the Play-In.