With a win over the Utah Jazz and losses to the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder this week, the Portland Trail Blazers managed to sink even lower in the NBA Power Rankings. They now hold the No. 26 spot after sliding to No. 25 in Week 23. John Schuhmann of NBA.com highlights the team’s defensive woes, while Zach Harper of The Athletic poses questions about the team’s makeup. Read on for more.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 26 (previously No. 25)
The Blazers came out of the All-Star break at 28-30, two games in the loss column behind the 33-28, fourth-place Clippers. But if there was a post-break push, it was toward the bottom of the standings, and this will be the first time in Damian Lillard’s 11-year career that he’s missed the playoffs in two straight seasons.
Of course, it will be the fourth straight time that the Blazers rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency, tied for the longest such streak in the 27 seasons for which we have play-by-play data (the Lakers – 2013-14 through 2016-17 were the last team to do it). Only the Heat have played more zone this season, so the Blazers have tried some stuff, and they do rank as the league’s sixth most improved defense from last season. But going from 29th to 27th on that end of the floor isn’t much improvement at all, and the Blazers just weren’t good enough to support the best offensive season of Lillard’s career (not that he was innocent in regard to the team’s defensive issues). He played 2,107 minutes, the Blazers scored a ridiculous 119.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and they went just 27-31 with him in uniform.
The league’s 27th-ranked defense still has two games to play against the league’s top-ranked offense, a two-game series with the Kings on Wednesday and Friday in Portland.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 26 (previously No. 25)
One burning question: Outside of Damian Lillard, what can the Blazers lean on?
The Blazers are packing up this season and heading their way toward a late run at tanking. They have a chance to get as low as the fifth pick without any lottery night chicanery. We know Damian Lillard is a pillar of this organization. What else do they have to lean on? Anfernee Simons is a very fun, young player, but the backcourt of he and Dame present a worse version of Dame and CJ McCollum. Jerami Grant is a free agent, and we don’t know if he’s coming back. Shaedon Sharpe is really fun, but not a person you rely on yet. Joe Cronin has tried to overhaul this roster, but it’s not in better shape than it was before.