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NBA power rankings: Lillard, Simons bright spots in challenging start to season

The Blazers are 4-6 and the schedule doesn't ease up for a couple weeks, but Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons have given fans something to cheer about.
Credit: AP
Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons dribbles past Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

PORTLAND, Ore. — It was shaping up to be a very bad week for the Portland Trail Blazers before Sunday's overtime win against a not-very-good Atlanta Hawks team salvaged at least a sliver of respectability.

The Blazers' offense, thanks to an MVP-caliber performance from Damian Lillard and the emergence of Anfernee Simons, has been fine. In fact, since November, it's been great, ranking fifth in offense. But the defense keeps getting worse, which is why Portland, despite a Top 5 offense, has lost four of five games this month. In November, the Blazers' defense ranks 27th in the NBA.

Lillard has been phenomenal. In November, he's averaging nearly 37 points per game while shooting 54% from the field and 44% from the 3-point line (on almost 12 attempts per game). Simons' emergence has been a silver lining during a tough month. He's scored in double figures in every game this month and is averaging almost 16 points in 23.9 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly as well as Lillard, making 49% of this field goals and 43% of his 3-point attempts.

RELATED: Lillard scores 60 points, but Blazers lose to Nets 119-115

The Blazers (4-6) have a winnable road game Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings (3-6). They're still two weeks away from wrapping up the toughest part of their schedule. After the Blazers return home for a Wednesday game against the 7-2 Toronto Raptors, Portland ventures out on a six-game road trip.

On that trip, which has only one back-to-back, the Blazers play the Spurs (5-4), Rockets (6-3), Pelicans (2-7), Bucks (7-3), Cavaliers (4-5) and Bulls (3-7). Once that trip ends, Portland's brutal opening stretch, in which it plays 13 of its first 18 games on the road, will finally be over.

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Here's a look at how the Blazers fared in the latest batch of NBA power rankings:

The Athletic: Blazers rank No. 12 (down 1)

What they wrote: The Zach Collins injury really sucks. Missing him for four months could really inhibit just how much this team can grow. The biggest problem is they now have to rely so much on Hassan Whiteside. It sounds like the Portland Trail Blazers are already past any potential honeymoon stage with Whiteside. His defense continues to be pretty bad, and he’s an awful pick-and-roll big man most of the time. He just doesn’t seem to have any kind of feel to how to play off of Damian Lillard. He was recently able to take advantage of a diluted Atlanta Hawks frontcourt, but prior to that he was making me wonder if it’s a better idea to have him or Skal Labissiere on the floor defensively. That’s how rough he’s been in the middle of the floor for the Blazers.

VIDEO: Critics target Blazers center Hassan Whiteside

Maybe Collins returns to 100 percent health by the playoff run. If he doesn’t, it feels like this team is cooked. Damian Lillard has been brilliant on the court and he had a 60-point night get wasted by his teammates. If CJ McCollum struggles, Dame simply has to do too much. We’re getting some flashes from Anfernee Simons off the bench right now, but he can’t do enough at this stage in his career to help Dame keep this train going. With the holes on the interior, the Blazers look like they could be in for a rude awakening soon unless the starting lineup starts punishing teams at the start of first and third quarters. If Jusuf Nurkic were healthy, the Blazers could just dangle an asset or two with Whiteside and go try to get Kevin Love from Cleveland. Unfortunately, this Blazers team is stuck with Whiteside for a couple more months. — Zach Harper

Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 15 (down 1)

What they wrote: Portland’s lack of frontcourt playmaking has led to some serious isolation extremes. 58.8% of Portland’s baskets are unassisted, more than 10% more than the second-place Clippers. Damian Lillard is third in iso possessions with 46. CJ McCollum ranks eighth. It really is a two-man band in the Pacific Northwest. — Michael Shapiro

NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 17 (down 3)

What they wrote: With Damian Lillard averaging 36.8 points on an effective field goal percentage of 65%, the Blazers have a top-five offense (112.5 points scored per 100 possessions) in November. But the month began with a four-game losing streak because their defense has not been good, especially in regard to keeping their opponent off the glass. They rank last in defensive rebounding percentage this month (that number has been worse with Hassan Whiteside on the floor than its been with him off the floor) and their opponents averaged 21.3 second chance points over the losing streak. On Friday, Lillard's 60 piece was undone by 67 from Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving, along with 26 second chance points from other guys on the Brooklyn roster. The Blazers stopped the bleeding with an overtime win over Atlanta on Sunday and with that being their first home win of the season, maybe it's good that one of the two six-game trips they have this season begins Saturday in San Antonio. — John Schuhmann

ESPN: Blazers rank No. 17 (down 3)

What they wrote: It might be justifiable because of injuries, but the Blazers have been in a rut (not even 60 from Damian Lillard could cement a win Friday). Although it's November and only game No. 10, their Sunday night overtime win against the Hawks felt significant. It snapped a four-game losing streak, which is key in the hyper-competitive West where falling too far behind means falling out altogether. The Blazers are a team ripe to make a move, and they might need it sooner than later. — Royce Young

CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 19 (down 4)

What they wrote: An overtime win over the Hawks saved what would have been a winless week for the Blazers, who are reeling since Zach Collins' injury. Terry Stotts has yet to find a consistent rotation that works, and CJ McCollum has struggled shooting the ball (39% field goals, 31% 3-pointers). If the Blazers have taught us anything over the years, it's never to count them out, but they're not playing well right now at all. — Colin Ward-Henninger

Jared Cowley writes about the Trail Blazers and other topics for KGW.com. He's also the co-host of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast (listen here). You can reach him on Twitter @jaredcowley.

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