PORTLAND, Ore. — The Blazers split their four games last week, beating the Knicks on Sunday, losing consecutive games to the Thunder and Rockets and beating the Bulls on another buzzer-beating game winner by Damian Lillard.
Give the injury ravaged Blazers this: they play entertaining basketball. Say what you want about the team’s defense — and they continue to get smoked on that end of the court — but all four games last week were within three points or fewer when the buzzer sounded.
Here’s the cumulative total of last week’s four games: Blazers 462, Opponents 464. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
On defense, the team is still struggling. It’s not a surprise. The team is without its most valuable defender in Jusuf Nurkic and has dealt with injuries to Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., two of the team’s better defenders. So, give the defense a break. That said, the Blazers have the worst defensive rating in the NBA over the past four games, allowing 119.3 points per 100 possessions. Which means to win games, the Blazers’ offense has to be elite.
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The Blazers’ offense has nearly reached that level. Over the same stretch, Portland is scoring 117.9 points per 100 possessions, the fifth-best mark in the NBA over the past four games. The main reason for that is Lillard, who continues to carry the Blazers, averaging 34.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists over the past four games while shooting 51.1% from the field, 44% from the 3-point line on 12.5 attempts per game and 93.1% from the free-throw line.
But the Blazers have also received major contributions over the past four games from Gary Trent Jr., Enes Kanter and Anfernee Simons. Trent Jr. and Simons rank second and third on the team in scoring during this stretch, averaging 18.5 and 16.0 points, respectively. Both are shooting well, with Trent Jr. shooting 47.4% from the field and 46.2% from 3 and Simons shooting 49% from the field and 51.6% from 3.
Kanter, meanwhile, is averaging a double-double over the past four games with 14.0 points and 13.8 rebounds per game.
It’s been enough to keep the Blazers afloat for now and until Nurkic and CJ McCollum return, that’s about as much as Blazers fans can ask for.
Here’s a look at how the team fared in the latest batch of NBA power rankings:
ESPN: Blazers rank No. 11 (no change)
What they said: The unbelievable win on Saturday against the Bulls, with his pair of 3s in under nine seconds, was another chapter in the legend of Dame Time. But down multiple starters and key role players, it's what Lillard has to do to steady the Blazers through rocky waters. He has led them in scoring over the past eight games (averaging 34.0 points during that stretch); and with four tilts remaining on a grueling, six-game trip, expect more of the same. — Royce Young
NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 14 (down 5)
What they said: The Blazers remain good for some thrillers, each of their last four games has been within five points in the last five minutes, and they had one of the most ridiculous finishes in recent memory on Saturday, with Damian Lillard draining two 3-pointers — one from 37 feet, one falling out of bounds at the buzzer — in the final nine seconds to beat the Bulls. He scored more points in those nine seconds than the Blazers scored over the final 3:51 (5) in a three-point loss in Houston two nights earlier. Lillard ranks second behind James Harden with 54 total points with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, having shot 15-for-24 on clutch shots and 19-for-19 on clutch free throws. That clutch-ness has the Blazers sitting as one of two teams — the Warriors are the other — with a winning record and a negative point differential. The Blazers are 2-3 without CJ McCollum, and they’ve managed to keep Lillard’s minutes below 37 per game over that stretch, even though they’ve also been missing one of their starting forwards for each of the last three games. Anfernee Simons was showing signs of that long-awaited breakout — 18.7 points per game, 14-for-25 from 3-point range over a three-game stretch — before scoring just eight points in Chicago on Saturday. — John Schuhmann
The Athletic: Blazers rank No. 16 (down 3)
What they said: Obviously, you have to account for the injuries they’ve suffered to Jusuf Nurkic, CJ McCollum and Zach Collins. However, before Nurkic and McCollum got hurt, we weren’t seeing the leap many people like myself projected them to make this season. The defense was bad, despite the acquisition of Robert Covington. And they were winning games simply by having a great offense. They have the excuses now for why they’re performing under expectations, but those excuses showed up long after we were scratching our heads about them. — Zach Harper
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 17 (down 7)
What they said: Damian Lillard saved the Blazers from an 0-3 week with a cold-blooded fadeaway 3-pointer as time expired on Saturday to beat the Bulls. The losses to the Thunder and Rockets were each by three points, as Portland has done a decent job staying afloat with CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic sidelined. Lillard averaged 33.3 points and 9.3 assists for the week on 40 percent 3-point shooting, while both Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons have contributed meaningful minutes in McCollum's place. — Colin Ward-Henninger
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