Power Rankings: On The Come Up In Week 22

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

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.

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Trail Blazers Fourth In The West In ESPN Summer Forecast

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
1 week ago

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.

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Trail Blazers Make Big Jump In ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 months ago

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.

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Power Rankings: Started Near The Bottom Now They’re Here

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
4 months ago

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.

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