The Portland Trail Blazers have lost six of their last 10 games and and have won just once in the last 10 days. Three of those losses — at Dallas, at Houston and at home against Golden State — were well within their reach and the kind of games the Trail Blazers had been winning earlier in the season.
Even though they’ve endured tough loss after tough loss in the month of March, they still find themselves fifth in the Western Conference standings, which is, more or less, where they’ve been since before going 1-4 on the recently completed five-game road trip. The Warriors, after winning Sunday night’s game in Portland, are now 1.5 games behind the Blazers for the fifth spot, so Portland will have to get back on track, and quickly, if they want to avoid slipping deeper down the standings, though you could debate endlessly the merits of playing, say, the Rockets as the fifth seed as opposed to playing the Clippers as a sixth seed.
But while they’ve managed to avoid a precipitous fall down the standings, they won’t be so lucky in the Power Rankings. Going 1-3 in each of the last two weeks comes at a price and the Power Rankers are here to collect …
· Marc Stein of ESPN.com puts the Trail Blazers at No. 14 this week, two spots worse than last week …
The Blazers, after Sunday’s blown-lead crusher at home against Golden State, undeniably have the look of a team more likely to finish sixth in the West than they are to move back up into the top four. They’re 12-15 since that 31-9 start and have slipped from first to fourth in offensive efficiency.
It’s going to take some kind of run by the Blazers or a meltdown by one of the teams above them for Portland to get back into the discussion for home court in the first round of the playoffs. Right now, the goal is probably making sure they don’t slip any farther rather than hoping to move up.
Stein ranks Portland behind Phoenix at No. 13 and ahead of Brooklyn at No. 14.
· David Aldridge of NBA.com and TNT has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, just one spot worse than last week …
Blazers’ slide has left them just 1 ½ games ahead of the Warriors for No. 5 in the West. You don’t want to be sixth in the West. Sixth means playing the Clippers, who are third in the conference. If L.A. keeps winning, it could mean Oklahoma City slides down to No. 3. You don’t want that, either.
Any matchup in the West is going to be tough, but I’ve got to disagree with Aldridge here. I’d rather play the Clippers than Houston, even with Lob City riding an 11-game winning streak. And the Blazers would get to stay on the west coast, which is preferable. I’d rather play the Thunder as well, though staying in Oklahoma City for nearly a week is … not my idea of a good time.
Aldridge has the Blazers behind the Bulls at No. 8 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 9.
· Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 this week, surprisingly the same as last week …
The Blazers desperately need LaMarcus Aldridge back. The All-Star has missed the past two games with a lower back contusion.
I agree that the Blazers could sure use LaMarcus Aldridge, but they had every opportunity to go 2-0 in the last two games without him. We might know more after today’s practice, but if I had to guess, I’d say Aldridge will miss Tuesday night’s game at home versus the Bucks, which is a game the Trail Blazers should be able to win without their starting power forward. “Should” being the operative word here.
Spears has the Blazers behind the Heat at No. 7 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 9.
· John Schuhmann of NBA.com puts Portland at No. 13 this week after ranking then No. 11 last week …
We can confirm now that the Blazers’ initial post-break defensive improvement was schedule-aided. After a rough trip and a heartbreaker against the Warriors on Sunday, they’re 0-6 against fellow West playoff teams since the All-Star break, having allowed 111.2 points per 100 possessions in the six games. They’re back on the road this week, but play just four more games against the West’s top nine.
There are some very winnable games on the upcoming roadie and, as Schuhmann mentions, the schedule eases up a bit from here on our. But with games, albeit at home, against the Grizzlies, Suns, Warriors and Clippers on the horizon, it’s not going to be THAT easy.
Schuhmann has Portland behind Dallas at No. 12 and ahead of Washington, their opponent on Thursday, at No. 14.
· The panel at USA Today actually moved the Blazers up one spot to No. 7 in this weeks rankings …
Filling in for injured LaMarcus Aldridge while still gunning for the No. 4 seed in the West.
There’s the optimism and generally sunny disposition that USA Today has built their brand on. Go buy a subscription as a thank you.
USA Today has the Blazers behind the Heat at No. 6 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 8.
· Matt Moore of CBSSports.com puts the Trail Blazers at No. 16 this week (!!!), a brutal seven spots worse than last week …
They’re starting to resemble Apollo 13, and they don’t have the fuel to get home.
The three-man Apollo 13 mission made it safely back to earth and the crew of James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise all became national heroes, so I’ll take it!
Moore ranks the Blazers behind the Bobcats at No. 15 and ahead of the (wait for it …) EASTERN CONFERENCE LEADING INDIANA PACERS AT NO. 17!
· Matt Dollinger at SI.com has Portland at No. 11, falling two more spots from last week …
The Blazers, who are 19-19 since a 24-5 start, have lost five of their last six. The absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the past two games with a bruised back, is obviously partially to blame, but Portland’s recent woes go a lot deeper than just injuries. The revamped bench has regressed; Wesley Matthews is mired in an ugly shooting slump; and the Blazers are simply being outclassed by their Western rivals, losing to the Warriors, Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Mavericks in a 10-day span.
Won’t argue with most of this, though to say the Blazers were “outclassed” by the Warriors, Rockets and Mavericks is, by any objective standard, incorrect. Outclassed by the Spurs? No doubt. The Grizzlies? Okay, sure. But you the Blazers were very much in the same class at Dallas, at Houston and last night against the Warriors at home.
Dollinger has the Blazers behind the Mavericks at No. 10 and ahead of the Nets at No. 12.
· Jason Patt at SBNation.com puts the Blazers at No. 13 this week, three spots worse than last week …
It feels kind of weird to have a 43-win team this low, but the Blazers are just 10-13 in their last 23 games and LaMarcus Aldridge is hurting. That’s what I would call trending down.
Patt has the Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 12 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 14.
We’re nearing the dog days of the NBA year now that summer league is over and free agency has cooled down. There’s still the release of the 2016-17 regular season schedule, which usually takes place in early to mid August, and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will feature a bevy of NBA players from various countries, but other than that, things should be relatively quiet until training camp starts at the end of September.
But with the main pieces of most rosters already in place, it’s somewhat feasible to start considering how the 2016-17 season is going to shake out, especially considering the Cavaliers, the 2016 NBA champs, made it through the offseason mostly intact (assuming LeBron James actually signs his contract) and the Warriors, already a favorite to make it back to the NBA Finals, added Kevin Durant. Barring significant injury, both those teams are likely to win their respective conferences, or if nothing else, will be picked by just about very NBA analyst to meet for the third-straight season in the Finals. But what about everybody else?
Well, the folks over at ESPN are taking a crack at that question, despite the season being almost a quarter of the year away, with their yearly summer forecast. As expected, the panel at ESPN is picking the Warriors to win the West in 2016-17 with a projected record of 67-15, which is six games worse than their 2015-16 record (one assumes that’s due to the notion Golden State won’t be gunning for the NBA record for most wins in a season this year). From there, they’ve got the Spurs in second, the Clippers in third and your Portland Trail Blazers in fourth…
Last season’s surprise, our panel sees further progress for a Portland team that spent serious dough this summer to keep its roster intact. The Blazers spent just north of a combined $290 million dollars this offseason on new deals for C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Evan Turner. And with Damian Lillard’s five year, $139.9 million contract kicking in this season, Portland is going all-in to return to contention in the West.
The ESPNers have the Trail Blazers going 46-38 this season, which would be a two-win improvement over last season. I’ve heard a number of people throw out 50 wins as a best-case scenario for the 2016-17 team thanks to the additions of Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli along with continued improvement from Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe, so this projection seems in line with local consensus (if there is such a thing three months before the season starts). But outside of record, finishing fourth in the West after ending last season fifth seems like a good goal for an up-and-coming team trying to prove their 2015-16 performance wasn’t a fluke.
As for the rest of the West, the ESPN panel has the Jazz in fifth, the Durant-less Thunder in sixth, the Grizzlies in seventh and the Rockets rounding out the playoff-eligible in eighth. Also worth nothing the 2015 summer forecast had the Trail Blazers finishing 11th in the West with a 31-51 record, so you never know.
There’s no better time to ponder the future of an NBA team than the period of the offseason before the draft and free agency. There are nothing but possibilities. Every free agent is a potential target who could change the direction of a franchise, every draft pick a presumptive superstar in the making who could eventually lead your team to glory.
Of course, the Trail Blazers don’t have a draft pick this year and attracting big-name free agents to Portland has always been a challenge, but when you’re the third-youngest team in the NBA, the future isn’t primarily defined by potential additions. And that’s especially true for a team coming off a 44-win season and their second playoff series victory in the last 16 years. While signing a all-star caliber free agent or obtaining a pick in the 2016 Draft would certainly help going forward, Portland’s fortunes are dependent on variables such as Allen Crabbe stepping into a bigger role, Al-Farouq Aminu building on a career season, CJ McCollum making the jump from very good to great and Damian Lillard becoming to bona fide Top 10 player in the league.
So while it never hurts to be optimistic about the opportunity for adding new talent, the Trail Blazers already have a strong footing going forward after rebuilding their roster just under a year ago during the 2015 offseason. That’s probably the main reason Portland jumped 10 spots to No. 8 in ESPN’s most recent Future Power Rankings. Here’s what ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton had to say about the ranking…
While we were relatively optimistic about the Trail Blazers in September, they’ve still tied for the largest jump since then. Portland moved back into the top 10 after not only defying expectations by making the playoffs but winning a series (albeit aided by the Clippers’ injuries) and competing with the Warriors in the second round.
Now, the Blazers have the opportunity to clear max space while retaining their young core, led by the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. That’s possible because GM Neil Olshey locked up young free agents Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis to contracts that look like enormous bargains.
To threaten the West’s upper crust, Portland still must hold off younger teams rising out of the lottery. But a strong management team of Olshey and newly extended coach of the year runner-up Terry Stotts gives reason to believe in the Blazers.
Portland’s best rankings come in management (5th) and players (9th) while their worst score comes in money (19th), which is somewhat ironic considering one of the wealthiest people in the world owns the team, though this ranking is surely more reflective of their salary cap situation than an unwillingness to spend.
The Northwest Division does well in the future rankings, with the Utah Jazz just ahead of the Trail Blazers at No. 7 and the Minnesota Timberwolves just behind at No. 9.
The Trail Blazers host the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night at the Moda Center in the final game of their regular season, bringing a close one of the more surprising campaigns in recent NBA history. Many, including most of the regular Power Rankings, assumed the Trail Blazers would be one of the worst teams in the league this season, with Terry Stotts, Damian Lillard and the rest of the team defying those low expectations by securing a spot in the post-season.
So now that the season is almost finished, let’s take one last look at where the Trail Blazers stand in the weekly NBA Power Rankings. And if you’d like to see where Portland started the season in terms of Power Rankings, click here.
• Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, unchanged from last week but 17 spots better than their initial ranking this season…
This is our last opportunity to remind you that the Committee of One was hardly alone in severely underestimating these Blazers. Only Philadelphia began the season with a lower over/under than Portland’s 27.5 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook back in October. But now look at ’em; Damian Lillard & Co. amazingly still control their destiny for the West’s No. 5 seed despite that crusher of a home loss to Minnesota on Saturday.
I’ve noticed some NBA writer folks on Twitter complaining about people calling them out on their incorrect predictions, and I think they’ve got a fair point. You don’t need to point out how wrong other people were in order to celebrate the success of your respective teams. But if you’re the type who likes to crow when your predictions are right or someone who acts like their predictions are gospel (you know who you are), then you’ve got to take your lumps when you end up being wrong. That’s how it works.
Stein has the Trail Blazers behind the Hornets at No. 10 and ahead of the Pistons at No. 12.
• John Schuhmann of NBA.com also has Portland at No. 11 this week, the same as last week but 14 spots better than their initial ranking…
Pace: 98.3 (13) OffRtg: 106.2 (7) DefRtg: 105.7 (20) NetRtg: +0.5 (13)
Terry Stotts, Neil Olshey and C.J. McCollum are all in the running for awards and the Blazers obviously deserve some sort of recognition for the season they’ve had when no one thought they’d even sniff the playoffs. Chris Paul-Damian Lillard looks like the best individual matchup of the first round, though Lillard shot just 32 percent against the Clippers this season, his lowest mark against any West opponent.
If the Blazers win their finale against the Nuggets, Schuhmann and the rest of us will get a Lillard v. Paul matchup. If not, it could end up being Lillard v. Westbrook, which ain’t too shabby either.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Hornets at No. 10 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 12.
• David Aldridge of NBA.com and TNT only ranks his Top 15 teams, a cut the Trail Blazers didn’t make at the start of the season. Now, he’s got Portland at No. 14, unchanged from last week…
Al-Faroqu Aminu might well be the best bang-for-the-buck free agent signing of the offseason.
Aminu has been incredibly important to the Trail Blazers this season thanks being the team’s most versatile defender and a vastly improved three-pointer shooter, but you could argue that another Neil Olshey free agent acquisition, one Edward Adam Davis, takes the “bang-for-the-buck” crown this season. Either way, two of the better signings of 2015.
Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 13 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 15.
• Jeremy Woo of SI.com also has the Trail Blazers at No. 11, one spot worse than last week and 17 spots better than their preseason ranking…
We actually learned a hell of a lot about the Blazers, who in fact are still a stable team led by a dominant player in Damian Lillard, and not a depleted also-ran. The playoffs are icing on the cake.
Making the playoffs means the Trail Blazers will send their 2016 first-round pick to Denver, so that icing is coming at a cost, but in the long run, it’s probably worth paying that price to get a young team playoff experience.
• Matt Moore of CBS Sports joins the legion by putting Portland at No. 11 this week, four spots worse than last week but 19 spots better than the rock bottom No. 30 ranking Moore saddled the Trail Blazers with at the beginning of the season…
I thought this team would finish in the 20s for wins. Instead they’re in the playoffs and actually look a little dangerous. Terry Stotts has done a simply remarkable job this season and deserves an extension for it.
That he has. They weren’t ever going to be as bad as Moore thought, but Stotts has certainly coached this team up.
Moore has the Trail Blazers behind the Hornets at No. 10 and head of the Mavericks at No. 12.
• The USA Today panel ALSO has the Trail Blazers at No. 11, unchanged from last week and 14 spots better than their season-opening ranking…
Their 853 three-pointers this season, entering their final regular-season game Wednesday, set a franchise record.
Portland’s 832 three-pointers made this season are the sixth-most by an NBA team all-time and Damian Lillard is just one three-pointer away from tying Wesley Matthews for the all-time franchise record for career three-pointers. So much for concern about Portland’s three-point shooting at the beginning of the season.
USA Today has the Trail Blazers behind the Hornets at No. 10 and ahead of the Pistons at No. 12.
• Josh Martin of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on April 7, has the Trail Blazers at — you guessed it! — No. 11 this week, two spots better than last week but just five spots better than their ranking at the start of the regular season…
A 120-115 loss might not have meant much to the Thunder, who rested Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka the night after clinching the West’s No. 3 seed. But for the Portland Trail Blazers—who turned over five of their top six players this past summer and were nine games under .500 in January—the win and the secured playoff spot that came with it were everything.
“Because there was so much doubt,” Damian Lillard said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). “It wasn’t just people saying they’re not going to be a playoff team. People said we wouldn’t win 20 games.”
At 43-37, the Blazers have more than doubled that predicted total while setting themselves up for a potential rematch with a more complete OKC squad.
I speak for all of the Trail Blazers traveling media contingent when I say we would much rather end up in Los Angeles playing the Clippers than in Oklahoma City playing the Thunder. I’m guessing there are quite a few players and coaches on the team who would also agree.
Martin has the Trail Blazers behind the Hornets at No. 10 and ahead of the Pistons at No. 12.