Damian Lillard, Blazers set to close back-to-back with Wolves

It didn’t take Damian Lillard long to return to form after dealing with his second right calf strain of the season.

Lillard aims for his fourth straight 20-point outing since making it back into the lineup when the Portland Trail Blazers host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night in the second end of a back-to-back between the clubs.

Portland won the opener 124-118 on Saturday night when Lillard poured in 36 points. Two nights earlier, Lillard scored 40 points, made a season-high nine 3-pointers and matched his season best of 12 assists during a 121-120 home loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Lillard was 15 of 15 from the free-throw line on Saturday and Portland was 25 of 28 as a team.

“Their parade of free throws was a big difference-maker too,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said afterward.

Lillard is averaging 32.3 points since his latest return. He also has received help on the offensive end from Anfernee Simons, who made five 3-pointers and scored 31 points on Saturday.

Simons has topped 30 points in four of the past eight games, but he had a subpar outing against Denver when he scored just six points on 3-of-12 shooting.

Simons was back in form by making 13 of 22 shots against Minnesota.

“I thought Ant was big time,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said of Simons. “I wanted him to be aggressive. We drew some plays for him, tried to attack. He did that. Had it going. We fed, really, off of Ant’s energy in that first quarter.”

Having two guards combine for 67 points was crucial, but the Trail Blazers also thrived on the boards with a dominating 45-28 rebounding advantage. Portland had an 11-4 edge on the offensive end.

“I thought we had so many moments in this game when we were really physical on the glass,” Billups said. “I thought our rebounding won us the game. When they shot it, we only let them get one shot at it.”

Minnesota had defeated Portland five consecutive times before falling short on the second contest of their five-game road trip. The Timberwolves beat the Utah Jazz 118-108 in the opener on Friday night.

Against the Trail Blazers, Anthony Edwards scored 26 points, Rudy Gobert had 24 points and nine rebounds and D’Angelo Russell also scored 24 points. Russell and Edwards each made four 3-pointers.

But Finch was very aware his team didn’t match Portland’s intensity in the interior.

“We weren’t very physical. We didn’t put our body on enough people,” Finch said. “They hold Rudy, they tie him up, they get into his body. We’ve got to go and get into their bodies and we’ve got to swarm.”

Gobert has connected on 17 of 22 shots while averaging 23 points over the past two games. He scored 22 on Friday when he made his triumphant return to play the Jazz, his team of the previous nine seasons.

Gobert is averaging 14.3 rebounds over the past three games, a stretch that began with 21 boards against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

Kyle Anderson has started the road trip well with averages of 14.5 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the first two games.

Backup guard Jordan McLaughlin (strained left calf) will likely miss his second straight contest.

–Field Level Media