The final week of the 2013-14 NBA regular season is upon us. It’s been a rather successful 24 weeks of Trail Blazers basketball this season in Rip City, though the daunting task of getting out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season is still yet to be accomplished. That journey begins this weekend against the Rockets, most likely in Houston, though there’s still a chance, albeit a small one, the Trail Blazers overtake the fourth seed.
But before then, there’s still one last round of Power Rankings to peruse. The Trail Blazers started the regular season ranked in the middle of the pack, fought their way to the top of the rankings by virtue of their white-hot start and, despite bouts of inconsistent play in the second half of the season, have been ranked in the upper third of the NBA ever since.
And now, in Week 24,
the Power Rankers are having their last regular season say about a team that has won eight of their last nine games and are coming off a dramatic overtime victory versus the Warriors. All in all, it’s a good way for the Trail Blazers to enter the playoffs after it looked for a brief moment that they might end up on the outside looking in.
Onto the final rankings …
· Marc Stein of ESPN.com looks to be back on the bandwagon, as he puts the Trail Blazers at No. 7 this week, five spot better than last week …
Going 8-1 since getting LaMarcus Aldridge back is forcing Houston to work to clinch the No. 4 seed. I also suspect the Blazers — who haven’t won a playoff series, believe it or not, since 1999-2000 — want the Rockets in Round 1 as much as the Rockets want them. Given the alternatives.
I’ve gone back and forth so many times on which team is the best playoff matchup for the Trail Blazers that I don’t even know what I believe anymore. But that the Blazers and Rockets are locked into a first-round matchup, I suppose discussing if playing the Clippers, Thunder or Spurs would be any better is even more fruitless than it was before.
Stein has the Trail Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 6 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 8.
· David Aldridge of NBA.com and TNT has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 this week after taking last week off to focus on the upcoming draft …
Back on the defensive grind since Cousin LaMarcus returned from injury.
DA is onto something there. The Trail Blazers, a team ranked 18th in defensive efficiency this season, are ninth in defensive efficiency in the last nine games. That bodes well going into the postseason.
Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Bulls at No. 7 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 9
· John Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 6 this week, which is three spots improved from their ranking last week …
Pace: 97.5 (10), OffRtg: 108.2 (6), DefRtg: 104.7 (18), NetRtg: +3.5 (9)
The Blazers scored at least 110 points in three of their four meetings with the Rockets, but won only one of them, because their defense isn’t very good. They are 8-1 since LaMarcus Aldridge’s return and got some high-scoring playoff prep with Sunday’s wild OT win over the Warriors. But that was just their second win (in 15 tries) over a top-nine Western Conference team since Jan. 18.
The Blazers were a James Harden three-pointer away from splitting the season series with the Rockets, so I’m not quite sure it’s as doom as gloom as Schuhmann lets on. And the Blazers might not be as good of a defensive team as the Rockets, but all indications are that they’re much healthier right now than Houston, which certainly factors into the matchup.
Schuhmann has the Blazers behind the Heat at No. 5 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 7.
· Matt Moore of CBSSports.com bumps Portland down a spot to No. 10 this week despite the Trail Blazers going 3-0 …
As long as they’re at home, and they don’t have to defend anyone, and everyone’s healthy … this team could be dangerous. Bringing new meaning to “qualified contender.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s got to be incredibly hard to keep tabs on what all 30 NBA teams are doing. Being knowledgeable about even one team when you follow them every day is difficult enough, so trying to do that with all 30 teams? Not possible.
Moore has the Trail Blazers ranked the Raptors at No. 9 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 11.
· Matt Dollinger at SI.com gives the Trail Blazers their biggest bump this week by ranking Portland at No. 5, seven spots better than last week …
What a difference a year makes. The Blazers ran out of steam and lost their final 12 games of 2012-13, but Portland isn’t running out of steam this year, winning eight of its last nine and enduring a 47-point performance from Stephen Curry on Sunday.
It was actually 13-straight losses, but who’s counting. Though to Dollinger’s point, Portland’s 20-game improvement from last season (33 wins to 53) is tied for the largest increase in wins between 82-game seasons in team history.
Dollinger has the Trail Blazers in a top of the Eastern Conference sandwich with the Heat at No. 4 and the Pacers at No. 6.
· Jason Patt at SBNation.com also bumps Portland up to No. 6 this week, one spot better than last week …
The Blazers have made a hard charge since LaMarcus Aldridge returned from injury, and the No. 4 seed remains in play.
Houston’s final regular season opponents are injured (Pelicans) and likely won’t have anything to play for (Spurs), so the chance they lose both games and give the Blazers a chance to jump into the fourth seed are slim. But hey, slim is better than nothing.
Patt has the Blazers behind the Rockets at No. 5 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 7. Makes sense.
· Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk has Portland at No. 6, one spot better than last week …
Portland is 8-1 since LaMarcus Aldridge returned and the big win at home over Golden State Sunday (maybe the most entertaining game of the season) shows they will not go quietly in the first round. However, their defense is going to have to be improved and consistent to slow down the Rockets offense.
Helin has the Blazers behind the Rockets at No. 5 and ahead of the Bulls at No. 7.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”