After an easy week on the schedule, the Portland Trail Blazers held their ground in this week’s NBA.com and Sports Illustrated NBA Power Rankings, and even climbed up The Athletic’s rankings a bit. The Trail Blazers went 1-1, losing to the Denver Nuggets and winning in a close game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Every outlet took note of star guard Damian Lillard’s 40-point breakout in the Denver loss. Here’s what they had to say.
Johann Schuhmann, NBA.com: #10 (formerly #10)
The Blazers are one of three teams — the Mavs and Suns being the others — to have lost multiple games that put them in double digits in the fourth quarter. The second of their two losses came Thursday against Denver when they (with the most reserves on the floor) lost an 11-point lead early in the fourth. The game went to the end, but Damian Lillard was dueled by Jamal Murray in the dying seconds, ruining a game in which Lillard had 40 points and 12 assists with just one turnover. (The Blazers had won 12 of their previous 13 regular-season games in which Lillard had scored at least 40 goals.)
The Blazers also have the league’s best record (9-9) in games where they are (at any point) behind by double figures. The most recent of those nine victories came on Saturday when they trailed by 10 points midway through the third quarter before surpassing Wolves by 19 points (27-8) in the next eight minutes. With Lillard healthy (and 22-for-22 from the line) and Anfernee Simons having a big game on Saturday (31 points in 13-for-22 shooting), last week’s two games were only fifth and sixth times that the Blazers have scored at least 120 points per 100 possessions (and for the first time in consecutive games). One more game against Wolves on Monday and they’ll likely crack the top 10 for offensive efficiency.
zach harper, the athlete: No. 14 (formerly No. 16)
Conclusion: The Blazers had a successful start to the season, but their quarter-to-quarter split is average. It leaves the Blazers as a coin toss to win or lose many of those games, and that will add some streakiness to their season. They need a bit more stability and it would really help them pull out leads and try to hold them instead of chasing quarters as much as they do.
The good news is that the Damian Lillard Effect — aka Dame Time — is still a big deal. Even in that game they lost to Denver, he was exceptional all the way. Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons have joined him to make big plays, so maybe the Blazers just have to come to those coin tosses and let Dame and Co take over.
Kyle Wood, sports illustrated: No. 13 (formerly No. 13)
Damian Lillard’s 40-point game against the Nuggets was spoiled by Murray’s last-second three. A few nights later he handed in another vintage outing which, along with 31 by Anfernee Simons, was enough to get past the Timberwolves. It’s been an easy week for Portland, who are healthy apart from Gary Payton II (who is yet to make his Blazer debut). Monday brings another game against Minnesota and then a six-game road trip begins in San Antonio on Wednesday.
Next up: A rematch with Minnesota.