PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers narrowly avoided falling a game below .500 for the first time this season when they beat the Lakers two days before Christmas.
That was just a temporary reprieve, though, from what has been a disconcerting month for the Blazers. Over the past 30 days, the Blazers have lost eight of 12, including six in a row at home, the longest losing streak since the team lost eight in a row at home to end the 2012-13 season.
Damian Lillard, the team's leading scorer and emotional leader, has missed the past two games with a right hamstring strain. His said he hopes to be back for Thursday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
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The Blazers' offense continues to be a mystery. The team has dropped all the way to No. 25 in offense, averaging just 102.1 points per 100 possessions. Last season, the Blazers ranked 11th in offense at 107.8 points per 100 possessions.
There have been some bright spots. The defense has been a strength all season. Portland ranks fifth in defense, allowing 101.7 points per 100 possessions. Last season, they ranked 21st and gave up 107.8 points per 100 possessions.
Lillard continues to prove worthy of All-Star status, averaging 25.2 points, five rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. The Blazers star guard is one of only six players in the NBA averaging at least 25 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. The others are James Harden, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins.
Looking at the roster, it's hard to pinpoint very many players who are playing better than last season. But a few role players have stood out. Al-Farouq Aminu is having perhaps the best season of his career, excelling on defense while shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line. Ed Davis has rebounded from a down season last year, returning to form as a ferocious rebounder and aggressive defender.
And Shabazz Napier has proven to be a solid contributor off the bench, averaging an efficient 8.7 points in less than 20 minutes per game. In the past two games, with Lillard out of the lineup with a strained hamstring, Napier has averaged 17.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals.
The Blazers have two winnable games before the close of 2017. They host the 76ers (15-18) on Thursday and then start a three-game road trip Saturday in Atlanta against the Hawks (8-25).
Here's a look at where the Blazers stand in the last batch of NBA power rankings for 2017.
Last week's ranking: 8
Portland neighbors: Pelicans at 15; Pistons at 13
What they wrote: On Saturday, the Trail Blazers won their 14th straight game against the Lakers, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak all time by any team against the Lakers. Only the Celtics had a longer streak -- back in the 1950s.
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 14 (down 5)
Last week's ranking: 9
Portland neighbors: Bucks at 15; Nuggets at 13
What they wrote: I think the Blazers' only win against a good team came when they beat the Heat a couple weeks ago. Aside from that... do Denver and OKC at the beginning of the year count? Maybe the Knicks and Wizards? They had a chance to pick up a couple big ones this week, and I’m still waiting on the team-defining one. At least Shabazz Napier looks like a player now.
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 13 (down 6)
Last week's ranking: 7
Portland neighbors: Bucks at 14; Pistons at 12
What they wrote: Under Damian Lillard's tree is a trip to the NBA All-Star game after being snubbed so many times in the past.
NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 16 (down 2)
Last week's ranking: 14
Portland neighbors: Heat at 17; 76ers at 15
What they wrote: The Blazers' offense has been pretty anemic (93 points scored per 100 possessions) in two games without Damian Lillard, but was pretty anemic in the first place (scoring 97 per 100 over the previous four). They haven't shot much worse over those six games, but rank last in free throw rate (just 16 attempts per 100 shots from the field) over that stretch. Lillard was on pace to become just the eighth player in NBA history to shoot 90 percent or better on at least seven free throw attempts per game (four of the previous seven have done it multiple times), but he had just 10 total attempts over his last four games and without him, the Blazers don't have anybody who can get to the line consistently. Considering Lillard's hamstring strain, the Blazers' best Christmas present was four days off around the holiday.
NBC Sports: Blazers rank No. 17 (down 3)
Last week's ranking: 14
Portland neighbors: 76ers at 18; Knicks at 16
What they wrote: The Trail Blazers had lost 8-of-11 before beating the Lakers Saturday (the 14th time in a row they have beaten LA). In their last dozen games, the Trail Blazers fourth in the league defense this season (if you remove garbage time from the equation) has stepped back to the middle of the NBA pack, but the more confounding thing is their offense has remained terrible (28th in the NBA in those dozen games). The good news is they should have Damian Lillard back on Thursday to go against the Sixers.
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. You can reach Jared on Twitter here.