Sacramento Kings v Portland Trail Blazers

Power Rankings: Better Than They Started In Week 24

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,

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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.

True enough.

Helin has the Blazers behind the Rockets at No. 5 and ahead of the Bulls at No. 7.