*All Power Rankings compiled from games played between Feb. 18 and Feb. 24.
1. Portland Trail Blazers (3-0)
Damian Lillard deserved every national press clipping of which he was finally the subject following the Trail Blazers’ victory over the Golden State Warriors on Friday. Portland’s franchise player didn’t just score 51 points, but scorched the defending champions in typically unique and dramatic fashion, too.
Last weekend, Lillard was something even greater than Steph Curry – no matter what Steve Kerr said. But the basketball world’s fawning response to his play only makes its lack of one to a similarly eye-popping performance two days later more frustrating.
With his sleepy team down 13 early in the second half against the Utah Jazz on Sunday, Lillard pull-up from 28 feet for his first three of the game.
Burgeoning frontcourt playmaker Mason Plumlee found him in the same place just seconds later.
Lillard dribbled his way into a sliver of space to launch from that hot spot on the Blazers’ next possession.
And then Rudy Gobert gifted him an incredible fourth consecutive triple, the final shot of a mind-blowing individual run that cut Portland’s deficit by 10 points in 90 seconds.
The Blazers beat their fellow Western Conference playoff hopefuls by the score of 115-111 for their 14th win in 17 games. Lillard didn’t quite dominate the Jazz the way he did the Warriors; the All-Star snub had a mere 30 points and five assists.
But no matter. CJ McCollum picked up his backcourt mate’s relative “slack” with 31 points of his own, and Portland’s quietly awesome bench scored 37 points – 17 of which came from the ascending Maurice Harkless – to support its electric pair of guards.
Lillard, though, is the engine that’s pushing the Blazers to the most surprising season in basketball – a reality that should be acknowledged whether it’s proven against the defending champions or another anonymous team out west.