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PORTLAND, Ore. — There's not a lot of consensus among NBA pundits about the Portland Trail Blazers, with the team sliding in somewhere between No. 10 and No. 14 in the latest batch of NBA power rankings.
But one thing everyone agrees on is how well Shabazz Napier has played while filling in for Damian Lillard, who has missed six of the past eight games with various right leg strains.
Napier's emergence has been a season-long story in Portland. He's averaging career highs in points (9.5), rebounds (2.3), steals (1.3), field-goal percentage (48.7), 3-point percentage (41.3) and free-throw percentage (83.1) and minutes (20.6). But it is his play in six games with Lillard out (five starts) that has made the national media pay attention. (Story continues below)
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In five starts, Napier has averaged 18.2 points, 5.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 36 minutes per game. He's also shooting efficiently, making 47.8 percent of his field goals, 39.1 percent of his 3-pointers and 84.2 percent of his free throws.
In the one game without Lillard that Napier didn't start, he played 37 minutes off the bench and finished with 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Napier's production has helped the Blazers to a 4-2 record in the six games Lillard has missed. The Blazers are on a bit of a hot streak, having won five of their past seven games.
The Blazers (21-18) are tied for sixth place in the Western Conference with the Denver Nuggets, just a half game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth.
Portland embarks on its most difficult road trip of the season, starting Tuesday. In a six-day stretch, Portland plays the Thunder (22-18), Rockets (27-11), Pelicans (19-19) and Timberwolves (25-16).
The Portland Trail Blazers embark on their most difficult road trip of the season, where in six grueling days, they will...Posted by KGW-TV on Sunday, January 7, 2018
Here's a look at where the Blazers stand in the latest NBA power rankings.
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 10 (up 4)
Previous ranking: 14
Portland's neighbors: Milwaukee Bucks at 11, Oklahoma City Thunder at 9
What they wrote: With Damian Lillard out, the Blazers have been looking to Shabazz Napier to carry the load in his place. Obviously, Napier doesn't pack the same scoring punch, but he has gone from someone that might be out of the NBA to one of the better backup point guards in a hurry.
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 11 (up 3)
Previous ranking: 14
Portland's neighbors: Oklahoma City Thunder at 12, Milwaukee Bucks at 10
What they wrote: Shabazz Napier looks like a real point guard out there; he seems to be in control at all times, he’s setting his teammates up with great passes and he’s scoring the basketball. The Blazers will have to find a way to get him on the court a little more when Damian Lillard returns. Perhaps his emergence will help keep Dame fresh for the postseason.
ESPN: Blazers rank No. 12 (up 1)
Previous ranking: 13
Portland's neighbors: Detroit Pistons at 13, Denver Nuggets at 11
What they wrote: C.J. McCollum's jumper with 5 seconds remaining gave the Blazers a 111-110 victory over the Spurs on Sunday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, San Antonio had won 143 of its previous 144 games regulation games in which it scored at least 110 points, dating back to March 2011.
NBC Sports: Blazers rank No. 13 (up 2)
Previous ranking: 15
Portland's neighbors: Philadelphia 76ers at 14, Miami Heat at 12
What they wrote: What would help a Portland offense that hasn’t been itself this season? How about some easy buckets in transition — Portland is 29th in the league in percentage of offensive plays that start in transition (11.3 percent, via Cleaning the Glass). Despite that the Blazers have won of six of their last eight, including going into Oklahoma City and getting a win Tuesday at the start of a rough four-game road trip (which includes Houston and Minnesota).
USA Today: Blazers rank No. 14 (down 2)
Previous ranking: 12
Portland's neighbors: Philadelphia 76ers at 15, Detroit Pistons at 13
What they wrote: Shabazz Napier has been stellar while filling in as a starter for Damian Lillard, averaging 18.2 points, 5.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds and two steals in five games, four of which were wins.
NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 14 (up 2)
Previous ranking: 16
Portland's neighbors: New Orleans Pelicans at 15, Denver Nuggets at 13
What they wrote: C.J. McCollum is having the worst shooting season of his career on his bread-and-butter shots, shooting 41 percent on non-restricted-area paint shots, down from 47 percent over his first four seasons. But those remain his bread and butter, and the game-winner in Chicago on Monday and the game-winner against San Antonio on Sunday were remarkably similar, off-balance runners in traffic. The Blazers have won five of their last seven games, even though Damian Lillard has played in just two of the seven, because their offense has come alive and they've survived four straight close finishes. After beating the Spurs at home, they now embark on a trip where they'll face four more West playoff teams, the toughest week they have left on the schedule.
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. You can reach him on Twitter here. All stats in this article gleaned from kgw.stats.com and nba.com/stats.
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