Blazers face 76ers, try to end home court losing streak
PORTLAND, Ore. — The good news for the Portland Trail Blazers is they will regain the services of their best player, point guard Damian Lillard, for Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Moda Center.
The bad news is that the Trail Blazers (17-16) will be trying to end a six-game homecourt losing streak against a Philadelphia team that clobbered them 101-81 on Nov. 22 at Wells Fargo Center.
Lillard, who ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring with a 26.2-point average, missed the past two games with a strained right hamstring.
“It felt pretty good,” Lillard told reporters after Wednesday’s practice session. “It’s just a little bit of soreness from inactivity coming off an injury. I sat out the two games. That was just about being smart. I don’t want to try to be tough and not allow it to heal.”
Portland is going through its longest skid at Moda Center since dropping the final eight home games of the 2012-13 season. The Blazers are 10-6 on the road but only 7-10 at home this season.
“You can’t lose games at home if you want to be a playoff team,” center Jusuf Nurkic said. “We have to do a better job protecting our homecourt.”
Against Philadelphia, Nurkic and his teammates must do a better job defending Joel Embiid, who went for 28 points and 12 rebounds in the previous meeting between the teams. Lillard bombed in 30 points in that one, but backcourt mate CJ McCollum — who averages 20.7 points per game — scored a season-low five points on 1-for-14 shooting.
In Saturday’s 95-92 win over the L.A. Lakers at Staples Center, Moe Harkless gave the Blazers a welcome lift with 22 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench, including a three-point play with 21.4 seconds remaining. Prior to playing 19 minutes in a 102-85 loss to Denver on Friday, the small forward had played nine minutes in the previous seven games.
“I was happy for Moe,” coach Terry Stotts said after the Lakers game. “He hasn’t been playing much. He came through with a lot of big plays for us. I hope that’s a start of big things from him.”
It’s the middle game of a five-game road trip for the 76ers (15-18), who snapped a five-game losing skein with a 105-98 win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day. After Portland, Philadelphia — a loser in 10 of its last 13 outings — visits Denver and Phoenix.
“We have to build off this feeling and the way we played and competed,” said guard J.J. Redick, who scored 24 points against the Knicks. “Look at the next three (opponents). Even Phoenix is playing well despite their record. It’s going to be a tough trip.”
Embiid collected 25 points and 16 rebounds despite dealing with the effects of a sore back against New York.
“He doesn’t practice, then comes in and plays games,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “We’re trying to grow him into a situation where he is a normal part of the team.”
Portland forward Noah Vonleh is questionable to play against Philadelphia after dislocating the ring finger of his right hand against San Antonio on Dec. 20.