Portland’s Damian Lillard was in destroy mode in his second game back from a calf injury, but his performance didn’t lead to victory.
Lillard will seek a happier ending on Saturday night when the Trail Blazers host the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first of consecutive games between the teams. They will play again Monday night in Portland.
Lillard scored 40 points, buried a season-best nine 3-pointers and matched his season high of 12 assists on Thursday night, but the Trail Blazers fell 121-120 to the visiting Denver Nuggets.
Portland led by as many as 11 points, but the Nuggets rallied in the fourth quarter and won on Jamal Murray’s 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds remaining.
“We fought and competed, but sometimes you have to play a little bit smarter and sometimes you have to be better about managing and controlling the things you can control,” Lillard said afterward.
The 40-point effort was the third of the season for Lillard in just 13 contests. He has been sidelined with two right calf injuries.
Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups was highly disappointed that Murray was able to get off a 3-point attempt in that situation.
“It wasn’t handled well at all,” Billups said afterward. “We’re up two. The last shot you can live with is a three. A two don’t beat us. We go into overtime, no big deal. We gave up a 3-point shot. It was terrible.”
Big man Jusuf Nurkic also played well for Portland with 21 points and nine rebounds. But the hot Anfernee Simons was frigid with just six points on 3-of-12 shooting — including missing all six 3-point shots — after scoring at least 20 points in 15 of his past 17 appearances.
Lillard had 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in his lone outing against Minnesota last season, but the Trail Blazers fell 116-111 at home. He missed the other three matchups due to his season-ending abdominal injury, and the Timberwolves won each of those games, including a 124-81 home romp on March 7.
Overall, Minnesota has won five straight games against Portland after the Trail Blazers prevailed in eight of the previous 10 meetings.
The Timberwolves could be a bit fatigued after opening a five-game trip with a 118-108 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
The contest marked center Rudy Gobert’s first visit to Salt Lake City since Minnesota acquired him from the Jazz during the offseason.
Gobert, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, contributed 22 points and 13 rebounds and was warmly received by Utah fans.
“We were starting a five-game road trip, and we really wanted to start the right way,” Gobert said afterward. “And, of course, me coming back home to a place I spent nine years of my career, I really wanted to get this one.”
D’Angelo Russell scored 20 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Timberwolves. Russell was 12 of 16 from the field overall and 6 of 9 from 3-point range.
“He’s just really locked in on his shot right now,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said. “It looks clean, and he’s letting it go. … He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. It’s really good to see.”
Kyle Anderson also played a key role with 15 points and a career-best 12 assists. But Anthony Edwards was just 3-of-14 shooting while scoring 14 points.
Reserve guard Jordan McLaughlin departed Friday’s game with left calf tightness and is unlikely to be available against Portland.
–Field Level Media