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NBA power rankings: 'The Blazers are in a bad way'

The pundits' explanations for what's going wrong in Portland are varied, ranging from the team's poor defense to Damian Lillard's injury to Hassan Whiteside.
Credit: AP
New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes (10) goes to the basket over Portland Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside (21) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. The Pelicans won 115-104. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Heading into Monday's games, the Blazers had the fourth worst-record in the league, with only the Hawks, Knicks and Warriors winning fewer games to start the season.

NBA pundits publish their power rankings each Monday and before this week, they'd mostly kept the Blazers around the middle of the league in the rankings, giving Portland the benefit of the doubt during a slow start.

That changed Monday. In the five publications sampled for this week's rankings, the Blazers' highest mark was 19 and their lowest was 26. John Schuhmann of NBA.com dropped Portland eight spots, all the way down to No. 25.

The pundits' explanations for what's going wrong in Portland are all over the map, ranging from the team's poor defense to Damian Lillard's injury to Hassan Whiteside, who drew the strongest criticism.

"The problem is Whiteside just flat-out isn’t good," wrote Zach Harper of The Athletic. "I don’t know what the solution is, but I know it’s not Whiteside playing as many minutes as he has this season."

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

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Blazers rank No. 19 (down 4)

What they wrote: Three games, three losses and a 5/16 mark from three for Carmelo Anthony in Portland. The losses aren’t largely his fault, of course, but it’s hard imagining Anthony as a difference maker in Portland. 2019-20 has been a nightmare season at the Moda Center. — Michael Shapiro

THE ATHLETIC: Blazers rank No. 20 (down 6)

What they wrote: The time since Damian Lillard injured his back has been pretty rough. The Trail Blazers are trying to work Carmelo Anthony into things but not doing so with Lillard on the court has made it look completely futile. Maybe it will continue to be futile moving forward, but the fate of the Blazers most likely rests on the capable shooting hands of Dame and CJ McCollum. Sadly, it will also rest on the incapable play of Hassan Whiteside, who was supposed to be their stopgap option as Jusuf Nurkic heals his gruesomely broken leg. The problem is Whiteside just flat-out isn’t good. His stats all come off as empty calories. He’s such a liability on defense that they have to play drop coverage in the pick-and-roll just to keep him somewhat near the rim.

Plenty of other teams and centers do this. Milwaukee does this a lot with Brook Lopez, but its movement around the picks and fighting through screens is pretty resilient. That’s a little tougher to see with Portland’s guards coming around screens. Whiteside is a defensive player who can’t play defense. He has no chance on the perimeter and he’s not even that good at the rim. For players defending at least 6.0 shots per game at the rim, Whiteside (61.9 percent) has the highest percentage allowed in the NBA. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know it’s not Whiteside playing as many minutes as he has this season. — Zach Harper

ESPN: Blazers rank No. 21 (down 2)

What they wrote: The Blazers' current losing streak is far less about Carmelo Anthony, and far, far more about the injury to Damian Lillard. The Blazers haven't been themselves for basically the entire season, and while adding Melo was desperate and necessary all at the same time, there's nothing they can do to absorb Lillard missing game. — Royce Young

NBA.COM: Blazers rank No. 25 (down 8)

What they wrote: The Blazers are in a bad way, and neither the arrival of Carmelo Anthony nor the return of Damian Lillard (from a two-game absence) was enough to resolve their issues, which start on defense. Over their four-game losing streak, they've allowed their opponents to average 45.5 points per game in the restricted area, where the league averages 35.9 and the Blazers themselves average just 29.6 points per game (29th). Anthony looked decisive in his debut, the Blazers were running plays for him early and often, and his 18 points helped them hang around with the Bucks on Thursday. But overall, both his own numbers and those of his team with him on the floor look a lot like they did last season in Houston. Over the last 20 full seasons, no Western Conference team that has won fewer than seven of its first 20 games has gone on to make the playoffs. The Blazers certainly have the opportunity to get to seven over their next three, but they'll have to start playing better than they did in a loss to the Love-less Cavs on Saturday. — John Schuhmann

CBS SPORTS: Blazers rank No. 26 (down 5)

What they wrote: Carmelo Anthony joined the fold, but it did nothing to change the Blazers' fortunes. They lost all four games this week to fall even further toward the bottom of the Western Conference, and Saturday's loss to Cleveland in Damian Lillard's return may have been their worst of the season so far. We've all learned to trust Lillard, CJ McCollum and Terry Stotts, but this has to be getting a little bit scary for Portland fans. — 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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