LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA –Grant Hill sat with knees mummied from ice and bandage wrapping. The small wooden cubicle in the cave that doubles as the visitor’s locker room at STAPLES Center molded around his frame. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA –Grant Hill sat with knees mummied from ice and bandage wrapping. The small wooden cubicle in the cave that doubles as the visitor’s locker room at STAPLES Center molded around his frame. Even the mounds of ice and cardboard brown encasing couldn’t prevent a smile.
“I feel pretty good,” Hill, who has spent the better part of two years on the Orlando Magic injured list, said. “I think having a guy like T-Mac around makes it (transition back to playing) a lot easier. I’m still a work in progress.”
An ankle injury prevented Hill from playing more than 18 games in the last two years combined. On Thursday, he dropped 17 points, pulled nine rebounds and dished three assists in a 101-80 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nine games into the season he is averaging 20.4 points and 5.4 assists, while shooting at a 63 percent from the field. He is 20th in the league in scoring, 19th in assists, second in field goal percentage and 34th in free throw percentage. Although he played 32 minutes, it is the one area he will not be among the league leaders in.
“I didn’t come in (to the season) with any expectations for him,” Orlando coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers said. “We’d been burned the last two years so we didn’t expect anything. We could see in camp that he was as fast and quick as ever. We just didn’t know if he was going to hold up. Right now, it’s about managing his minutes.”
Although in his absence, Orlando has clearly become Tracy McGrady’s team, the Magic cannot win without both playing well. They are again without a dominant big man and are relying on a combination of Andrew de Clerq and Pat Burke to fill that hole. Shawn Kemp provides a big body, but time and extra weight has limited his scoring ability. That means that Hill and McGrady are forced to excel if the team expects to meet River’s expectations.
“I don’t mind being the first, second, third or whatever option,” the six-time all-star said. “ I just want to win.”
Thursday’s win made up for a home loss to the Clippers the week before. In that game, Hill had a season high 29 points. Hill said Orlando lacked concentration in that game. He said he hoped everyone had learned a lesson from that game. ”Hopefully, that (loss) will make us a better team in the long run.”
This time, Orlando stretched a six-point halftime lead to a 20-point advantage at the end of the third quarter. An Eric Piotowski lay-up with six minutes to go in the fourth cut the Magic lead to 13 points, but the Clippers wouldn’t get any closer. Hill countered with a lay-up and McGrady knocked down a 15-footer to extend the lead back to 17. The two then put the knife in LA’s hope for a come back. With a little more than three and a half minutes left, the Magic ran the play clock down. McGrady took a jumper from the left side, which bounded off the rim. Hill reached around two Clipper’s players and tapped the ball out to McGrady who didn’t miss the second time.
STAPLES Center looked like pre-game warm-ups after that. Fans were racing each other to see who could make it to the exits first. Hill hit an “oh, by the way” three pointer with 41 seconds left to put the Magic up by 20 again.
As Hill glanced at each reporter surrounding his locker, he couldn’t help but smile. Two years of uncertainty seemingly washes away with each ounce of sweat. Happy in his cubicle, relaxed in his ice and feeling like this was a beginning.
“I’m still trying to get my rhythm back,” the Duke All-America said. “As for now, we’re doing fine and I’m very comfortable with my role.”