Towns had 34 points and 12 rebounds and the Minnesota Timberwolves snapped Portland’s six-game winning streak with a 110-109 victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday night.
It was the second game for Portland without Nurkic, who galvanized the team after coming over in a trade from Denver at the deadline.
He will miss at least the rest of the regular season with a fractured right leg, leaving the Blazers to battle big frontcourts in San Antonio, Utah and one more time against Minnesota without him and just a 1 1/2-game cushion on Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
“There’s a lot of good bigs out there, and we’re thin right now. We’ve got Meyers (Leonard) and (Al-Farouq Aminu), who’s not really a five,” C.J. McCollum said. “So we’re in a tough position, but it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to go out there and play and make the best of it.”
Damian Lillard scored 25 points but made just 7 of 21 shots, including 3 of 11 3-pointers. His potential game-winning pull-up jumper at the buzzer glanced off the rim.
Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points and Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to Sacramento that eliminated them from postseason contention on Saturday.
“They’re playing small, we have a big who can guard smalls and play like a big at the other end,” Rubio said of Towns. “That’s big for us.”
Aminu scored 20 points and Maurice Harkless had 17 points, eight rebounds and a big block of a Rubio drive that gave the Blazers the ball back with 4.9 seconds to play.
Lillard got a clean look, but couldn’t knock it down and Portland missed a golden chance to pad its lead on Denver in a tense race.
The Blazers beat lowly Phoenix in their first game without Nurkic and went super-small on Monday against the Wolves with Aminu and Harkless seeing some time at center.
The sleek lineup put the Blazers in control with a 34-point second quarter, but the 7-foot Towns had his way in the fourth. He scored 14 points in the period, including a big dunk for a 110-106 lead with 35 seconds to go.
“We just had a hard time,” Lillard said. “Guys competed hard on him. We made it as hard as we could on him, but he’s very good and he’s going to score points. That’s what happened.”
Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts was the Western Conference coach of the month and Lillard was the conference’s player of the month as Portland finished March at 13-3. … Lillard’s first 3 of the game in the third quarter gave him 200 for the season, the third time he’s done that in his career. Wes Matthews is the only other Blazers player to do it even one time.
Timberwolves: Brandon Rush scored 12 points, giving him back-to-back double-digit efforts for the first time since Jan. 11-13. … Rubio hit a technical free throw in the third quarter after the Blazers were whistled for defensive 3 seconds. It was his 49th straight technical free throw made, the longest active streak in the league.
McCollum struggled as well, scoring 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting and 0 for 3 on 3s. He scored 43 and 32 points in his first two games against the Wolves.
“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive at certain times,” he said.
Both teams are set up for difficult back-to-backs because this game had to be shoe-horned into the schedule. It was originally scheduled to be played on March 6, but an ice sheet that was placed under the court so Target Center could host a college hockey tournament started to melt due to unseasonably warm weather. That caused condensation on the court that could not be corrected, so the league postponed the game.