Blazers seek revenge vs. Hawks with Lillard in tow
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For the last two weeks, the condition of Damian Lillard's right leg has been a concern for the Portland Trail Blazers.
He missed five games with a right hamstring strain before returning Tuesday in Cleveland and then was dealing with some soreness in his right calf during practice Thursday.
The good news for Portland is Lillard is expected to play and the team is listing the star guard as probable for Friday's home game with the Atlanta Hawks.
On Tuesday, Lillard scored 25 points in a 127-110 loss at Cleveland. In his first game since Dec. 20 versus San Antonio, Lillard shot 8 of 15 and made six 3-pointers in 33 minutes but also committed seven turnovers.
"My conditioning was pretty good," he told reporters Tuesday. "My timing was a little bit off with some of my passes but everything else, I felt pretty good."
At various points, Lillard wore a heating pad on his right leg while resting Tuesday and as Portland practiced he was sporting a compression sleeve on his right calf.
"My hamstring felt good in my first game, my conditioning felt good," Lillard told reporters Thursday. "I caught a cramp in his right calf. Just from not playing for a while I'm a little bit sore, but overall I feel good."
Lillard will be seeking consecutive 25-point games for the first time since scoring 133 points in a span of four games from Dec. 2-11. He followed that up by scoring 91 points on 38 percent shooting in the next five contests before being sidelined.
He enters Friday with 9,687 career points and needs 13 more to become the eighth player in team history to get at least 9,700.
Portland went 3-2 in Lillard's absence and its worst performance without the star occurred Saturday when it shot 42.4 percent, committed 20 turnovers and got outscored 58-37 in the second half of a 104-89 loss at Atlanta.
The Blazers (19-18) are 6-10 in their last 16 games since moving five games over .500 following a double-digit win at New York on Nov. 27. They possess a top-10 defense by allowing 101.3 points per game but are in the bottom third offensively by averaging 101.9.
Atlanta (10-27) owns the league's worst record but is playing better of late with three wins in five games. Atlanta shot 56.5 percent in the fourth quarter in its win over Portland on Saturday when Dennis Schroder scored seven of his 22 points.
The Hawks then followed it up with a 104-103 loss at Phoenix on Tuesday. Atlanta blew a 14-point lead, shot 41.4 percent and committed 16 turnovers.
The Hawks held a 12-point lead with 4:51 remaining but wound up getting outscored 19-6 the rest of the way. It was Atlanta's seventh straight road loss and dropped its league-worst road mark to 3-16.
Schroder scored 20 points Tuesday but with the Hawks needing a 3-pointer to tie, he made a layup and there was no time for another possession.
"It's tough, man," Atlanta's Kent Bazemore said, "Any time you fight so hard and put yourself in a situation to win a game, and I question myself down the stretch."
Schroder's lapse and Atlanta's lack of late-game execution spoiled the opener of a five-game road trip. Despite his lapse, Schroder is averaging 22 points in his last five games, though he is 3 of 16 from 3-point range in his past four contests.
"That's a tough loss," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "To have a lead and not make enough plays on both ends of the court, I think we'll learn from it. ... There are lots of mental mistakes from all of us. We all can get better."
Atlanta has won its last three visits to Portland.
Updated January 5, 2018