Lillard expected to return as Blazers host Clippers (Mar 29, 2018)

March 29, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Plenty has changed over the past 48 hours for the Portland Trail Blazers, who play host to the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night at Moda Center.

Starting small forward Moe Harkless is lost for at least the rest of the regular season after Wednesday knee surgery. Starting point guard Damian Lillard is a father for the first time, arriving at the hospital in time for the birth of Damian Lillard Jr. on Wednesday.

And the Trail Blazers (46-29) are smarting a little after a 108-103 loss to the lowly Memphis Grizzlies (21-54) on Wednesday. Even without the services of Harkless and Lillard, it still was a disappointing loss for the Blazers, who were 5 for 11 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter, missing five attempts over the final 3:36.

"We missed some free throws down the stretch," said CJ McCollum, who bombed in 42 points on 16-for-25 shooting but botched a pair of foul shots in the closing minutes. "But if we get stops, if we guard the 3-point line better and do some of those things, then it doesn't come down to that."

Friday will mark the return of Lillard, who with McCollum gives Portland one of the most potent backcourts in the NBA. Just this week, Golden State's Kevin Durant called McCollum "the most underrated tough cover" in the league.

"I feel like teams are pretty prepared for me," McCollum said. "I don't feel that way, but I think it was a compliment."

The Blazers, who are trying to maintain their spot as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, must rediscover their touch from 3-point range. Over the last five games, they are shooting just .293 from beyond the arc.

The Clippers (41-34) are thinking about playoff positioning, too, and for now, they're on the outside looking in. After losing five of six games, they have won three in a row to thrust themselves back in the playoff picture. The Clippers enter Friday's game in ninth place in the West, a game back of No. 8 Utah (42-33).

"Every game is do-or-die for us," center DeAndre Jordan said. "Every game we drop, it's going to be tougher and tougher for us to extend our season. We still have a chance, and we're still optimistic, but we have to take care of business."

The Clippers have been hammered with injuries in the backcourt, including Milos Tedosic (plantar fascia), Avery Bradley (abdominal) and Patrick Beverley (knee). Also out is forward Danilo Gallinari (finger).

Rookie Tyrone Wallace started at point guard for Teodosic and had 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals in Wednesday's 111-99 win over Phoenix. The Clippers have relied on the steady hand of his backcourt mate, Austin Rivers.

The son of coach Doc Rivers, who had 18 points, eight assists and three steals against the Suns, has scored in double figures in 15 straight games. Rivers had missed five weeks of action in January and early February due to an Achilles tendon injury.