Damian Lillard returned to the Portland Trail Blazers lineup Sunday night after a five-game absence due to an abdominal injury, but it did little to halt their slide as they dropped their fifth game in a row.
Injuries, inconsistent play, and a poor record on the road (2-8) has seen the Blazers get out to a slow start this season, with their road record tied with the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder and only the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons owning worse records.
The Blazers’ saving grace was their stellar play on their home floor, however, after starting the season with an impressive 10-1 record at Moda Center, they have now lost their past four games at home and past five overall, dropping to 11th in the Western Conference at 11-16 on the season.
With CJ McCollum still sidelined with a collapsed right lung and no clear timeline on when he’ll be back, Lillard’s return is the shot in the arm the Blazers need to help get their season back on track, but in his first outing, the six-time All-Star looked far from his best. While he finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he shot just 5-of-17 from the field, 3-of-14 from beyond the arc and had five of the Blazers’ 19 turnovers.
“He seemed to be moving pretty well,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “Just rusty from not having played basketball in a few weeks.”
After Larry Nance Jr tied things up at 106-106 with 2:28 to go, the Blazers were held scoreless for the next two minutes, before Lillard canned a timely triple to cut it to three points but that’s as close as they got as the Timberwolves secured the 116-111 win.
“We don’t do anything for long enough stretches,” Lillard said postgame. “Throughout the game it’s like we have good moments but we aren’t able to sustain it on either end. We do things good for a few possessions and then we have a few bad possessions. I think that’s on both ends of the floor and it’s going to be tough to win a game like that.”
With the win, the Timberwolves broke their own five-game losing streak, while the Blazers’ five-straight losses is their longest drought of the season.
The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for Lillard and co., with some tough matchups in their next 10 games, including games against the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies (twice), Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks.
The good news at least is one half of their backcourt is back on the floor and Lillard expects he’ll be back to his best sooner rather than later.
“I know that I’ll be better,” he said. “I’m just excited to feel so much better.”