PORTLAND, Ore. — The Trail Blazers are on quite a roll.
Portland has won six in a row and 15 of its past 20 games. The Blazers have done it mostly with defense. During their six-game winning streak, the Blazers lead the league in defensive efficiency, holding teams to 98.1 points per 100 possessions.
Their offense has also been solid during the streak, scoring 108 points per 100 possessions, and they rank fourth in net rating over the past six games, outscoring teams by 9.9 points per 100 possessions. Only the Rockets, Raptors and Warriors have been better.
The Blazers now have the fifth-best record in the NBA and have moved into sole possession of third place in the Western Conference. (Story continues below)
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But their hold on the third seed is precarious. The Pelicans and Timberwolves are only a half-game behind the Blazers, the Spurs and Thunder are one game back and the Nuggets are two games behind. The playoff race in the Western Conference is as tight as ever. Every game counts.
Portland has 19 games left in the regular season, including three this week. They're on the road Monday night against the suddenly surging Lakers (who've won five in a row and 13 of 18), and then back home for two games: Tuesday against the woeful Knicks and Friday against the defending champion Warriors.
Here's a look at where the Blazers stack up in the latest batch of NBA power rankings.
CBS Sports: Blazers rank 4th (up 2)
What they wrote: Damian Lillard is going to get a deserved amount of All-NBA hype thanks to what he's been doing this season. He's improved as a defender and has carried a Portland offense that struggled for much of the season. This has been arguably the best season of his career.
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank 4th (up 5)
What they wrote: Meanwhile, the Blazers have won six in a row and entered Week 21 with the fifth-best record in the league. This is a surprising development for a team that struggled for much of the early season. And shockingly, Portland’s success stems more from its No. 7 defense then its No. 16 offense. That’s right, the Blazers are scoring on par with the Hornets and Celtics but defending only 0.8 points per possession worse than the Warriors. Portland’s net rating would indicate the team has room to improve, but the Blazers are peaking at the right time.
NBA.com: Blazers rank 4th (up 6)
What they wrote: A six-game winning streak has put the Blazers in good position to begin the playoffs at home, where they've won 13 of their last 14 games, with seven of the 13 wins coming against teams that currently have winning records. They lead the league defensively since the All-Star break, having held each of their five opponents under a point per possession. The defense (which has risen back to seventh in the league after falling to 11th prior to the break) has been at its best with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor. He ranks as one of the league's best high volume rim protectors and the Blazers have allowed just 20 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field (an opponent free throw rate which would lead the league) with him on the floor.
ESPN: Blazers rank 5th (up 2)
What they wrote: Look out for the Trail Blazers, who have won their past six games. The biggest reason? Their defense: Portland has allowed 98.1 points per 100 possessions during the winning streak, best in the NBA over that span.
USA Today: Blazers rank 5th (up 5)
What they wrote: After an up-and-down first few months of the season, it appears as though Portland is finally over the hump. The Blazers — who own the NBA's best defensive rating (98.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) during their current six-game winning streak — are all the way up to third place in the West.
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. You can reach him on Twitter at twitter.com/jaredcowley.