Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers

Power Rankings: On The Come Up In Week 22

Think back to around 8 PM on March 25. The Trail Blazers had just lost to the Orlando Magic, owners of the third-worst record in the NBA, by 10 points for their third-straight loss. The defeat cut Portland’s lead on Golden State to just a half game for the fifth seed in the Western Conference and there was mounting concern that maybe the Trail Blazers would miss the postseason all together. LaMarcus Aldridge still couldn’t run without pain thanks to a lower back contusion and on the horizon were road games against the Hawks and Bulls and a “first game back from a long road trip” contest against the Grizzlies, a team that had dominated the two previous matchups. It was arguably the low point of the season.

Six days later, things seem a whole lot different. LaMarcus Aldridge has since returned and is once again playing at a high level, which lifted the Trail Blazers to wins in their last three games. They also got some help in the standings thanks to the Suns, Warriors and Grizzlies (natch) losing key games, and while they’re still in fifth, the likelihood that they’ll fall out of the Top 8 now seems slim. Things could take another 180 degree turn by next week, but for right now, it’s good times in Rip City.

And the Power Rankers have taken notice. After bottoming out in last week’s rankings, the Trail Blazers get pushed up in most of this week’s rankings and see some significant jumps in the minds of a couple of naysayers …

· Marc Stein of ESPN.com puts the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, two spots better than last week …

Lookie here. After 10 consecutive losses to teams that entered the game with a winning percentage of .600 or better, Portland uncorked surprising weekend wins over Chicago (road) and Memphis (home) and, more importantly, are 3-0 since getting LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup.

The Trail Blazers would have gotten that elusive “win versus a Western Conference playoff team” last night if the loss, as Ben Golliver points out, hadn’t dropped the Grizzlies to the ninth spot. Nevertheless, beating Memphis is probably Portland’s best victory since beating the Mavericks in Dallas on Jan. 12. I’d put the Bulls win up there, too, but the Trail Blazers always seem to beat Chicago, for whatever reason.

Stein has Portland behind Toronto at No. 12 and ahead of Brooklyn at No. 14.

· David Aldridge of NBA.com and TNT sat out last week’s power rankings, but he’s back this week and has the Trail Blazers at No. 9

Blazers might be — might be — pulling out of the nosedive just in time.

That’s the Gucci Mane version of power ranking explanations.

I’m reluctant to declare that the Trail Blazers of November and December are “back” after three games, but they’ve played some of their best basketball of 2014 since LaMarcus Aldridge returned.

Aldridge has the Blazers behind the Bulls, who at Blazers recently beat for the the sixth-straight time, ahead of the Blazers at No. 8 and has Dallas behind Portland at No. 10.

· Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 7 this week, two spots of improvement from their ranking last week …

Golden State currently owns a playoff tiebreaker over the Trail Blazers with a 2-1 series lead. Portland hosts the Warriors on April 13.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that, though I like Portland’s chances in that game considering it’s Nic Batum drinking glass night. If the Blazers could have a few more night’s like they did Sunday, they might not have to worry about the Warriors nipping at their heels for the fifth seed (though, depending on your opinion of matchups, maybe you wouldn’t mind slipping to sixth).

Spears has the Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 6 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 8. Fitting.

· John Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers pegged at No. 10 this week, for a four-spot jump from last week, the largest of any team in Schuhmann’s ranking this week …

Pace: 97.4 (11), OffRtg: 108.2 (6), DefRtg: 104.7 (19), NetRtg: +3.6 (9)
LaMarcus Aldridge shot just 11-for-31 in his first two games back and had another scary fall on Sunday, but his jumper was falling in the Blazers’ huge win over the Grizzlies. That was their first victory over one of the other teams in the West’s top nine since Jan. 18 (they had lost 12 straight). They’re the only team that’s done with back-to-backs and their only road games left are against the Lakers and Jazz.

The Lakers punked the Suns Sunday night (thanks guys!) and the Jazz almost beat the Grizzlies a few nights ago, so neither of those games are going to be gimmie’s. But then again, it beats playing playoff teams on the road. And the Blazers should get some kind of medal or something for being the first time to be done with back-to-backs.

Schuhmann has the Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 9 and ahead of the Bulls at No. 11.

· The panel at USA Today keeps the Blazers at No. 8 this week, same as last week …

Nicolas Batum is averaging 10.1 rebounds a game since the All-Star break after averaging 6.5 before it.

When Aldridge is on the bench, that’s about 10 rebounds a game up for grabs. Batum went for all of those, and then some.

Not that Batum isn’t happy to have Aldridge back. After the Hawks game, Aldridge’s first after returning from a lower back contusion, Batum walked by me in the locker room, turned his back to the rest of the media and said, “Yeah, I think we need LA” which was subtle jab at the media that Aldridge then ran

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with in his postgame comments.

USA Today has the Warriors ahead of the Blazers at No. 7 and the Suns right behind at No. 9.

· Matt Moore of CBSSports.com puts the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, which is seven spots (!!!) better than last week …

It’s like they spent six weeks trying to figure out why the car was making that weird noise, only to flip a switch to make the car run fine again. The switch is named “LaMarcus Aldridge.”

Look, if a team can rise or fall seven spots in the course of a week, especially in the final days of the regular season, you’re not doing a very good job of power ranking. Last week Moore noted that he took flack from Blazers fans for his recent rankings, and while all of this is trivia, it’s not hard to see why people would take issue with rankings that are nowhere near reflective of record.

Moore has the Blazers behind the Suns at No. 10 and ahead of … the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers at No. 12.

· Matt Dollinger at SI.com has Portland at No. 11, slightly better than their No. 12 rankings last week …

With LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup, the Blazers stopped the bleeding with three consecutive victories over playoff teams (are we still counting Atlanta?). Most impressive was Sunday’s win over the Grizzlies, who beat Portland by double digits in their two previous meetings.

I was thinking about this the other day: is this as healthy as Aldridge has been since before the All-Star break? He had already started to experience some groin issues before All-Star Weekend but didn’t look completely right even when he returned after missing the first five games after the break. But after sitting out seven games with bruised lower back, it’s possible he’s as fit as he’s been in some time.

Dollinger has the Blazers behind the Nets at No. 10 and ahead of the Bulls at No. 12.

· Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk has the Blazers at No. 7 this week, seven spots better than last week …

LaMarcus Aldridge returns and the Blazers win three in a row, including beating the Bulls and Grizzlies — beating Memphis was the first time in 13 tries the Trail Blazers beat

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another team from the West’s top nine. The Blazers are not going to catch Houston for the four seed (four games in the loss column too much to make up) but playing back to form them become a tough first round matchup.

Having home court advantage against the Rockets didn’t work last time, so maybe playing them as the underdog in the four/five matchup is the way to go.

Helin has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 6 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 8.

· We finish this week’s power rankings with Jason Patt at SBNation.com, who responds to Portland winning three straight by putting then at No. 6 this week, eight spots better than their No. 14 ranking last week …

The Blazers make a huge jump this week thanks to the return of LaMarcus Aldridge and the subsequent three-game winning streak, including an impressive win over the Grizzlies.

Patt has the Trail Blazers in an Eastern Conference Finals sandwich: behind the Heat at No. 6 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 7.