PORTLAND, Ore. — The Trail Blazers raced out of the All-Star break, winning their first four games, all on the road, and things were looking up for Portland. Since the Blazers beat Boston on February 27, though, they've lost three of four, with the two wins coming against a bad Charlotte team and a worse Phoenix team.
Following a team through the ups and downs of the regular season is a tricky operation. It's an entertaining exercise trying to extract meaning from a week's worth of games, but it's mostly a fool's errand. The better barometer of a team's quality is established over a much-larger sample size.
For example, over the past five games, the Blazers rank fifth in offense, scoring 113.1 points per 100 possessions, and 24th in defense, giving up 113.5 points per 100. That places them 17th in net rating, with opponents outscoring Portland by 0.4 points per 100 possessions.
In the five games before that, though, Portland went 5-0, the offense and defense were both humming, and the Blazers ranked first in net rating, outscoring teams by 13.7 points per 100 possessions.
Which sample size is an accurate indicator of the Blazers' proficiency? Neither.
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Full-season stats are the best gauge of a team's competence. For the season, ranks Portland fifth in offense (112.6 points per 100 possessions), 16th in defense (109.4 points per 100) and eighth in net rating (outscoring opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers indicate the Blazers have the potential to get out of the first round of the playoffs this season, especially if they're able to secure homecourt advantage.
Right now, that is eluding the Blazers. The top four seeds get homecourt advantage in the first round and Portland (40-26) is currently in fifth place. Though the Blazers and fourth-place Thunder (40-26) have identical records, Oklahoma City owns the tiebreaker because they won the season series against Portland. The third-place Rockets (41-25) are one game ahead of the Blazers.
Here's a look at how the Blazers fared in the latest batch of NBA power rankings.
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 6 (down 1)
Editor's note: The theme of this week's power rankings is whether the season will be remembered as a success or failure for each of the 30 NBA teams and what it will take over the rest of the season to change that.
What they wrote: I get how Blazers fans might get a little bit restless. It does feel that they're stuck in the same very-good-but-never-to-be-confused-with-great territory they've been stuck in through the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum era. But this team is relevant. They're the type of team who can beat anyone in the NBA on a given night. The only way this season can be considered a failure for the Blazers is if they go out and lay an egg in the first round of the playoffs like they did a year ago. But this team feels ... different. — Reid Forgrave
NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 6 (down 1)
What they wrote: Because the fourth-place Thunder still have a tougher schedule going forward, the Blazers still have a chance to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But it might be difficult to pass the Rockets (who have the easiest remaining schedule of the three) for third place, and a Portland-OKC series would match the Blazers with the Western Conference team that has played them the best this season, with Paul George having averaged a league-best 38 points per game against Portland. (What's wild is that the Blazers were the only West team to sweep the Thunder last season.) The playoffs are still five weeks away and the Blazers still have some interesting tests (including two this week) in front of them. Increased production from Maurice Harkless (11.1 ppg on 55 percent shooting since the All-Star break) is an encouraging sign, knowing that playoff defenses will look to limit the Portland guards. — John Schuhmann
ESPN: Blazers rank No. 6 (down 1)
What they wrote: The Blazers are 25-9 at home and 15-17 on the road this season (Portland averages 117.1 points per game at home but 110.4 on the road, the third highest PPG drop in the league). That leaves the Blazers with seven home games and nine road games as they fight with Houston and Oklahoma City for the third and fourth seeds in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers still have a mixed bag left of road games against the Clippers, Pelicans, Spurs, Bulls, Hawks, Pistons, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Lakers. — Marc Spears
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 8 (down 4)
Editor's note: This week, the author used "five words to explain what's happening with every team at this point in the season."
WHAT THEY WROTE
Two more road trips left.
The Trail Blazers had a tough end to their seven-game road trip and then went home and lost to the Thunder for the fourth time this season.
Despite being dominated by Oklahoma City in the season series, Portland is still tied with the Thunder, just one game out of third in the West.
With the majority of their remaining games on the road, the Trail Blazers will need to keep up with what they did coming out of the All-Star break, or else they will drop in the West standings. Potentially as far as the eighth seed.
Tuesday is the start of one of the team’s final two road trips, and this three-game set will include a game against the Clippers and a matchup with the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back. They also have a four-game road trip at the end of March, but the only team above .500 Portland will face during that stretch is the Pistons.
This upcoming trip though carries a bit more weight. In addition to seeing two teams right behind them in the standings, it also comes at a critical time. After having some major success away from home, now would be a bad time for the Trail Blazers to regress and struggle on the road. These seven games worth of road trips will not only heavily dictate where the Trail Blazers are seeded, but they will also likely show us how dangerous this team will be in April. — Khadrice Rollins
The Athletic: Blazers rank No. 10 (down 2)
Editor's note: The author looked at best and worst case scenarios for each team in this week's power rankings.
WHAT THEY WROTE
Best Case: This is the year the Portland Trail Blazers make a deep run with this core. Much like anticipating the release of “John Wick 3,” we’ve been waiting quite a while to see the Portland Trail Blazers make a deep run in the playoffs. The Blazers haven’t made the conference finals since 2000. In the Damian Lillard era, the Blazers have made it to the second round twice and found themselves eliminated in the first round three times. One of those second-round appearances happened because the Clippers lost all of their good players in the series. Portland could find an advantageous road to the conference finals if they can secure the 3 seed away from Houston. They can take down the Jazz defense in the first round and then topple Denver in the second round. These are doable goals, but they actually have to show up in the postseason.
Worst Case: We get another New Orleans Pelicans experience. It was brutal last year to watch Jrue Holiday steal the lunch money of Damian Lillard time and time again. It was brutal to watch the Blazers just get completely overmatched by what should have been an inferior team. Repeating that in any way against the Jazz or Houston or OKC would just slap the label on the Blazers of them being no good in the playoffs. That usually leads to rushes to judgment with coaching changes and trading away key personnel. Maybe it even puts the bug in the ear of Lillard to eventually leave Portland. They can lose in the postseason; they just can’t get demolished again. — Zach Harper