No one expected the Portland Trail Blazers to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. They've been awful offensively with Anfernee Simons off the floor since the New Year, and Portland's latest star shot-maker joined Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little and Justise Winslow on the sidelines Monday night with a left quad contusion.
Considering the impressive fight the Blazers put up against Minnesota in the first leg of their two-game set at Target Center, though, it wasn't naive to assume Chauncey Billups' ragtag team might be competitive despite its similarly unenviable circumstances. Providing more room for that measured optimism? Anthony Edwards was out again and D'Angelo Russell didn't play, either.
But Portland never came close to another moral victory on Monday, let alone a real one, getting supremely out-classed by Karl-Anthony Towns and the short-handed Wolves from the opening tip. The Blazers had earned their most lopsided loss of the regular season by the time the fourth quarter buzzer finally sounded, falling to Minnesota 124-81.
The 43-point deficit is tied for Portland's sixth-worst in franchise history.
“They came out with the mindset of being very, very aggressive, being very, very physical. We didn't match their intensity early on and they took advantage of us, they really did,” Chauncey Billups said after the game. “It's like you get hit with that haymaker, we just staggered and could never come back to. You gotta give them credit, you give 'em credit. They seen a team that was wounded and took advantage.”
There was an individual bright spot for Portland, at least.
Brandon Williams notched a career-high for the second time in as many games with NUMBER points, again showing off difference-making burst, quickness and overall creativity off the bounce. He went 7-of-18 from the field on a steady diet of difficult shots, compensating for that inefficiency by living at the free throw line, where he went 11-of-16.
It's tough to blame Williams for his less than ideal shot selection. Josh Hart, best off the ball, was still Portland's only proven playmaker, and he missed 10 of his 12 shots. Keon Johnson forced his way to 14 points on as many field goal attempts. The Blazers just didn't have any semblance of ball-handling juice otherwise.
“You see what we have out there, a lot of guys that usually play really well when you have your real roster,” Billups said. “But without those guys, we have a lot of guys that struggle in those situations.”
The dispiriting reality is that a loss reaching these depths was hardly shocking for Portland.
The Blazers dressed just nine players Monday night after having eight on the active roster 48 hours earlier. Simons' 38 points were a major factor in Portland staying competitive into early crunch time on Saturday, but just as impactful is the constant pressure he put on Minnesota's defense. Absent anyone dynamic enough to consistently draw multiple defenders and goad the Wolves into scrambling behind the play, the Blazers simply had no means of semi-reliable offense this time around.
It definitely didn't help that Portland's hustle and intensity reflected its growing gap on the scoreboard from the opening up. After going out of his way to laud the Blazers' overall effort in their first loss to the Wolves, Billups did the opposite on Monday.
“I sat at this microphone a couple nights ago, obviously we lost the game, but I felt good about us. I felt good about our effort, felt good about how hard we played, how hard we competed,” he said. “Obviously, I have a different feeling today coming in here, sitting at the microphone. I'm quite sure our guys don't feel great while they're taking showers right now, about their effort and how they competed. But it happens. It's the NBA. We didn't have our best stuff tonight.”