The Portland Trail Blazers endured a rough week, with a solitary win over the lowly Detroit Pistons, followed by three straight losses to the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and New Orleans Pelicans. Consequently, they have fallen across Week 22 NBA Power Rankings. John Schuhmann of NBA.com explains why, while Zach Harper of The Athletic explores a lineup he finds intriguing.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 25 (previously No. 23)
The Blazers are still just two games out of a Play-In Tournament spot, and they’ll play eight of their next nine games at home. But given the way they’ve been playing, they seemed destined for a second straight year in the NBA Draft lottery.
A season ago, the Blazers turned the lights off after the All-Star break and were outscored by an astounding 21.3 points per 100 possessions over their 23 post-break games, a mark that was almost twice as bad as every other team. The lights are seemingly still on in Portland this year, but the Blazers have again seen the league’s biggest drop in point differential per 100 possessions (from minus-0.3 to minus-7.6) since the break. They’re 3-7 over the last three weeks, with their only wins having come against the Rockets, Magic and Pistons.
With Anfernee Simons returning from a four-game absence and shooting 5-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half on Friday, the Blazers did have a 21-point lead in Philadelphia. But they allowed the Sixers to score 64 points on 46 possessions after halftime, Jusuf Nurkic went 1-for-5 at the line down the stretch, and Joel Embiid beat them with a fadeaway jumper in the final seconds. Count that as loss No. 16 (two more than every other team) in games the Blazers led by double-digits. (The record for the 27 seasons of play-by-play data is 22.)
Now Damian Lillard is dealing with a calf issue that kept him out of their loss in New Orleans on Sunday. Although the schedule is home-heavy, the Blazers also have a relatively tough remaining schedule overall, with eight of their 14 games against teams that currently have winning records. With their losses in Boston and Philly last week, they’re just 8-19 (2-13 since late November) against that group.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 23 (previously No. 22)
Lineup: Damian Lillard | Cam Reddish | Matisse Thybulle | Jerami Grant | Drew Eubanks
Stats: 79 minutes | +4.2 net rating | 114.7 offensive rating | 110.5 defensive rating
Now that Jusuf Nurkić is healthy again, this lineup probably becomes a little more irrelevant, but I’m still fascinated by it in the few games we’ve seen it since the trade deadline. Depending on what you think about Reddish, this is probably one of the more versatile groups the Blazers can throw at opponents. There’s more scoring prowess when Anfernee Simons is in there for Reddish, but the size allows for better defense to be possible. There’s a lot of mobility, but it also might not have the shooting they need. Basically, the Blazers still need a lot of roster help.