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Blazers Stagnate in Week 21 NBA Power Rankings

The Portland Trail Blazers are making some slight headway in this week’s NBA power rankings.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers largely held position in the Week 21 NBA Power Rankings, but that may not be saying much. There isn’t a whole lot further for them to fall before landing in the dregs of the NBA. Poor defense and poor rebounding in the absence of center Jusuf Nurkic are the most glaring issue, as highlighted by’s John Schuhmann.

Read on to see what he (and The Athletic’s Zach Harper) had to say about Portland this week.

John Schuhmann, No. 23 (previously No. 22)

Damian Lillard can’t score 71 points every game, especially because he never gets to play against the Portland defense. Lillard did average 35 ppg over the Blazers’ four games last week, but the Blazers lost the first three, allowing their opponents to score 126.0 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak. The nadir was the 75 points on 49 second-half possessions that the Warriors scored as the Blazers blew a 23-point lead on Tuesday. They remain the league leaders in losses (15) in games they led by double-digits.

Jusuf Nurkic, who’s missed the last 13 games, has been particularly missed on the glass. The Blazers have grabbed just 65.5% of available defensive rebounds, the league’s lowest rate, since the All-Star break. And for the season, they’ve grabbed 75% with Nurkic on the floor and just 67.9% with him off the floor. The 24 second-chance points that the Hawks registered on Friday were one shy of their season high.

The Blazers got a win in Charlotte on Sunday, when Lillard scored 41 points and Nassir Little became the sixth different Blazer to make a shot to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. After a stretch where Portland lost nine straight games that were within five points in the last five minutes, it’s won five of its last seven clutch games, scoring 65 points on 50 clutch possessions over that stretch.

The Blazers’ game in Detroit on Monday is the end of a stretch of five games in seven nights. And then their six-game trip gets tougher. Their weekend split in Atlanta and Orlando has them 8-15 against Eastern Conference, with an 0-5 mark against the East’s top five. They’ve yet to play the Celtics (who they’ll visit on Wednesday) and their first meeting with the Sixers (who they’ll visit on Friday) was one of the three times they’ve scored less than a point per possession.

Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 22 (previously No. 22)

Preseason over/under: 39.5

Pace last time we checked in: 39.9

Any changes to how we feel? This over is still very much in reach, but the Blazers are having a miserable time. It doesn’t matter how good Damian Lillard is. The Blazers need more. Portland is 2-6 since trading Josh Hart. The Blazers have a bottom-four defense in the NBA. They’ve had plenty of guys miss time, but so have most teams. I just don’t know their strategy game to game. Maybe they have one last push in them to try to make the Play-In. It would take a 10-8 finish to get the over.