PORTLAND, Ore. — National pundits are taking note of Portland's impressive start, with the Blazers ranking as high as No. 4 in the most recent batch of NBA power rankings.
After six games, the Blazers (4-2) rank third in offensive efficiency, seventh in defensive efficiency and second in net rating. If traditional stats are more your thing, they're nearly as impressive. Portland ranks fifth in scoring, seventh in points allowed and second in point differential.
Portland also ranks first in 3-point shooting, offensive rebounds and total rebounds, second in defensive rebounds, fourth in free-throw shooting, and sixth in blocks and turnovers.
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Some have tried to explain away the Blazers' strong start by citing a perceived easy schedule, with two games already against the Phoenix Suns. But according to ESPN's NBA RPI rankings, the Blazers' strength of schedule through the first six games has been anything but easy. It ranks as the fourth-most difficult schedule in the NBA.
Portland's opponents have a .566 overall winning percentage. The Blazers have played the Suns (2-4) twice, but they've also played the Clippers (4-1), Bucks (4-2), Pelicans (3-3) and Pacers (3-3), with three of those games on the road.
It doesn't get any easier for Portland, with Toronto (3-2) at home on Monday night and a road trip to Utah to face the Jazz (3-3) on Wednesday. The Blazers are then back home Thursday for a nationally televised game against Lonzo Ball and the Lakers (2-4).
Here's a look at the where the Blazers rank this week.
RANKINGS PUBLISHED ON MONDAY
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 4
Previous ranking: 13
Portland's neighbors: LA Clippers at 3, Detroit Pistons at 5
What they wrote: Portland is trying to avoid its usual early-season slump. The Blazers are scoring in bunches and their losses have come against good teams in close games. C.J. McCollum is playing out of his mind right now and Portland looks good.
NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 6
Previous ranking: 13
Portland's neighbors: San Antonio Spurs at 5, Washington Wizards at 7
What they wrote: The only things keeping the Blazers from being undefeated are Giannis Antetokounmpo's last-minute defense nine days ago and Blake Griffin's game-winning three on Thursday. That shot came after C.J. McCollum missed one of two at the line and McCollum has already missed more clutch free throws this season (he's 4-for-7) than he did last season (when he was 36-for-38). Though they rank last in opponent free throw rate (37 attempts per 100 shots from the field), the Blazers have been the third most improved defensive team in the league thus far, having allowed almost 10 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. And that's with three of their six games having been against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively.
Sporting News: Blazers rank No. 6
Previous ranking: N/A
Portland's neighbors: Boston Celtics at 5, Golden State Warriors at 7
What they wrote: The good: Only two losses, and those came by three total points. In a stretch with 10 of 11 at home. The bad: Damian Lillard struggling at 22.3 points and 37.4 percent shooting.
ESPN: Blazers rank No. 10
Previous ranking: 12
Portland's neighbors: Milwaukee Bucks at 9, Oklahoma City Thunder at 11
What they wrote: If not for the heartbreaker against the Clippers on Thursday night, Rip City would've recorded a clean three-game sweep at home this week. Defense has long been the iffy variable in Portland during the Lillard-McCollum era, so the Blazers have to be thrilled about their early-season stinginess. They currently rank [seventh] in defensive efficiency, and are the NBA's top rebounding team.
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 13
Previous ranking: 13
Portland's neighbors: Milwaukee Bucks at 12, New Orleans Pelicans at 14
What they wrote: Can someone explain this image to me? I don’t think arms are supposed to look like that (see image below).
RANKINGS PUBLISHED TUESDAY
USA TODAY: Blazers rank No. 10
Previous ranking: 11
Portland's neighbors: Washington Wizards at 9, Cleveland Cavaliers at 11
What they wrote: Shooting guard CJ McCollum has yet to score below 20 points and is shooting 50.6% from the field and 56.5% from three through five games. His backcourt counterpart, Damian Lillard, hasn't had the same luck in the percentage department (37% from the field), but we don't anticipate that lasting very long.
RANKINGS PUBLISHED WEDNESDAY
NBC Sports: Blazers rank 13
Previous ranking: 8
Portland's neighbors: Milwaukee Bucks at 12, Minnesota Timberwolves at 14
What they wrote: That six-point quarter against Toronto was UGLY, but let’s not dwell on it. The Blazers are the second-best offensive rebounding team in the NBA to start the season, grabbing a ridiculous 28.6 percent of their missed shots. Portland has had a soft schedule to start the season; when they have faced quality teams such as the Clippers and Raptors they lost. The next week sees the Jazz, Thunder, and Grizzlies, and we’ll get a better sense of how good this team really is.
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. You can reach him on Twitter here.
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