PORTLAND, Ore. — It was March 26, the Trail Blazers were playing the Orlando Magic, and Jusuf Nurkic was back in the starting lineup for Portland for the first time since missing more than two months with a wrist injury. It was also the day after the NBA trade deadline and Norman Powell, whom the Blazers had acquired from Toronto the day before, made his first start for the Blazers.
It marked a turning point in Portland's season. It may not look that way judging by Portland's 13-11 record in the 24 games since Nurkic returned and Powell became a starter, including an ugly stretch in April when Portland lost 10 of 13 games. But a closer look at the numbers shows that Portland has played its best basketball of the season since that first game with Nurkic and Powell in the starting lineup. In the past 24 games, the Blazers' offensive rating is tied for first in the NBA, their defensive rating ranks 16th and the team's net rating ranks fifth.
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Portland has really put it together in the past two weeks, winning seven of eight. In the past eight games, Portland's offensive rating is No. 1 in the NBA, their defensive rating ranks seventh and the Blazers' net rating is the second-best in the league.
Since March 26
(NBA rank in parentheses)
- Offensive rating: 117.6 (1)
- Defensive rating: 111.9 (16)
- Net rating: +5.7 (5)
Past 8 games
- Offensive rating: 123.9 (1)
- Defensive rating: 108.5 (7)
- Net rating: +15.4 (2)
The Blazers are peaking at the right time as they battle to avoid the seventh seed and the play-in tournament. With four games left in the regular season, Portland leads the seventh-place Lakers by one game and trail the fifth-place Mavericks by the same margin. The Blazers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against both teams.
Here's a look at how the Blazers fared in this week's batch of NBA power rankings:
ESPN: Blazers rank 10 (up 1)
What they wrote: Portland has won seven of its past eight contests, and within that stretch, Damian Lillard is averaging 33.8 points on 52% shooting. The Blazers' slump a few weeks ago had a lot of reasons behind it, but the overarching issue was that Lillard wasn't producing at his standard. Since then, the power of Dame was possibly on display on a bigger-than-basketball level, with him tweeting about wanting fans in Portland's home building -- and having his wish granted a few days later. — Royce Young
The Athletic: Blazers rank 9 (up 1)
What they wrote: Good, needed week for Portland, which seems to have gotten back on track. The Blazers have separated themselves from the Lakers in avoiding the play-in tournament right now. However, their last three games of the season are Utah, Phoenix and Denver. — Zach Harper
NBA.com: Blazers rank 11 (down 1)
What they wrote: Momentum generally doesn’t carry over from the regular season to the playoffs, but playing well over the last few weeks is certainly better than the alternative, especially if it puts you in a much more advantageous position in the standings. The Blazers have followed a 1-7 stretch with a 7-1 stretch, with the lone loss (Monday in Atlanta) coming in the second game of a back-to-back and after a surprise wake-up call.
Better bench minutes (they’ve outscored their opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions in Carmelo Anthony’s 148 minutes over the eight games) have come with a shorter rotation. The biggest win of the last seven came Friday against the Lakers, with the key stretch being a 16-5 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. Anthony and Enes Kanter were on the floor together for most of that stretch and L.A. shot just 1-for-12.
The Blazers still have some work to do to secure a spot in the West’s top six. They host Houston on Monday, but they finish the season against the Jazz, Suns and Nuggets, currently sporting an 0-9 record (and having allowed more than 125 points per 100 possessions) against the top four teams in the conference. — John Schuhmann
CBS Sports: Blazers rank 9 (up 1)
What they wrote: The Blazers stayed hot this week, winning three of four games, including a pivotal victory over the Lakers that could help them avoid the play-in tournament. Damian Lillard has regained his MVP form from earlier this season, averaging 33.3 points and eight assists on 54 percent 3-point shooting this week. Portland has now won seven of its last eight games, with the league's second-best net rating over that stretch. — Colin Ward-Henninger