Hill has further to climb

Updated: March 9, 2005, 7:44 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

DENVER -- He is the feel-good story of the weekend. The feel-good story of the season, actually.

Grant Hill
Hill still has the hops to get off his shot, and is putting up the best FG% of his career.
Yet even Grant Hill concedes that his comeback isn't nearly complete.

Back in the All-Star Game for the first time in a half decade, and having played more games this season (50) than in his first four Orlando seasons combined (47), Hill knows what's missing.

Playoff success.

Heartwarming as it is to see Hill here after five foot surgeries, it was inevitable that some media cynic would toss out a reminder that Hill has yet to win a single series in his career.

The good news? Hill's in such a pleasant mood after making it back this far, he didn't mind. He even agreed with our premise.

Then Hill took it a step further and revealed that, at 32, he still dreams of winning a championship someday.

"Nobody believed me when I said I would come back and play this season," Hill offered with a wide grin. "Maybe no one will believe we can win a championship."

You get the point he's making, but the omen he's searching for is more than a tad optimistic. While Orlando truly is one of the season's surprise teams, at 28-24 and sixth in the East, no one dares to talk title, no matter how much they like Hill. The Magic are obviously a piece or three away from serious contention.

But Orlando certainly has a foundation again ... if Hill stays healthy. His impact on Steve Francis and rookie forward Dwight Howard has been undeniable, and Hill, in his own words, contends that he's merely "in the middle of the comeback."

He thinks he'll be a better player a year from now -- as always, assuming the ankle holds up -- because everything else on his anatomy has relatively low mileage. "I feel like I have the ankle of a 42-year-old," Hill explained, "but I've got the body of a 29-year-old."

Which means he feels sturdy enough to do something even grander than stepping onto the Pepsi Center floor as an East starter Sunday.

Getting out of the first round, for starters.

  • Shaquille O'Neal insists there will be no problem coexisting with soon-to-be Heat teammate Alonzo Mourning.

    No problem even though O'Neal once famously described himself as a Benz and Mourning as a mere Beemer.

    "I'll be fine because I'm a team player," Shaq said. "There's not going to be a conflict. I know he wants to win. I want to win again. We just have to put it all aside and get it done. I don't see that problem happening. I really don't."

    Asked, then, why he used to zing 'Zo so much in the old days, Shaq explained: "I had to make those comparisons because we were two young ninjas coming in. Now I am shogun, loved by no one. I killed all the other ninjas before me."

    Uh, right.

  • After being fired in Minnesota, Flip Saunders seconded ESPN.com's recent suggestion that Kevin Garnett probably shouldn't even be playing these days because of nagging knee soreness. Saunders told famed local columnist Sid Hartman that Garnett "hasn't been able to do the things that make him such a great player."

    Saunders also suggested that Garnett could use some extra rest for the knee's sake, but there's a reason Garnett couldn't skip All-Star Weekend to get that rest.

    Even though Garnett's injury is very legit, the league would have forced KG to go on the injured list for five games after the break because he hasn't missed regular-season time. The NBA instituted that policy to prevent players from treating All-Star Weekend as optional.

    At 2-1 under Kevin McHale, Minnesota returns to work with a three-game road trip (Clippers, Seattle, Portland) followed by home games against Golden State and Milwaukee. Not the toughest stretch in the world, but now that Garnett finally sees some hope for the underachieving Wolves, he would prefer not to sit out even one game when the season resumes.

    Thus it's no surprise KG refused the chance to complain about his health.

    "For the most part," he said, "I'm great."

  • Jermaine O'Neal looked into the ESPN camera and guaranteed that we'll be seeing the Pacers in the postseason.

    "I promise you that," he said. "You heard it here first. I promise the Pacers will be in the playoffs this year."

    O'Neal did admit, though, that he wasn't so sure as recently as last month, after a 5-10 record in January. It's also worth noting that Indy is still a game below at .500 at 25-26 and merely tied for eighth in the East with Philly.

    "I was worried about [the playoffs], but now these last two weeks we've been able to put a group of guys together and practice," O'Neal said. "I don't know any team that just shows up to games, but that's what we were doing because we [only] had like six or seven guys that were able to practice.

    "But now we understand that we're in a position that we may not be in the playoffs, and more than anything that Reggie Miller said he was retiring. We can't allow him to go out on that note. He always says, 'Don't do it for me, do it for yourself,' but at some point we've got to respect what he's done in his career and what he's done for us. For guys that really didn't get the chance in other places, and allowing those guys to come [to Indiana] and have another youth movement and give us an opportunity to build our career on his time ... he's a guy that's a Hall of Famer and he deserves [one more] opportunity to win a championship."

  • The Nuggets are the 12th team in league history to host All-Star Weekend without an All-Star in the Sunday game -- and the ninth team since 1990. "We hope things are starting to turn around for us, but it's a reflection of the year we've had," Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said. "Just about everyone who had a chance of being an All-Star has been hurt at one point or another. I have a lot of admiration for our guys because they've all tried to play hurt."... A potentially interesting scene at media day -- Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant giving interviews in the same vicinity -- was nixed because the ballroom provided to the league for Friday's interview sessions was big enough to hold only one team at a time. So the West's 12 All-Stars did interviews first, followed by the East's 12 All-Stars. And Shaq made it clear he wouldn't be making the extra effort to find Kobe somewhere else in town before the big game. "No way," Shaq said. ... If you're planning on some shoe-watching Sunday, be advised that Allen Iverson and Yao Ming will be wearing Reebok's new Pump sneakers. Dee Brown, of course, made Pumps famous when he wore (and inflated) them to win the 1991 dunk contest. ... Vince Carter says he's not panicking (yet) about Jason Kidd trying to force his way via trade to Minnesota or somewhere else besides New Jersey. "We hope he stays," Carter said. "And the only thing you can do is each player can come out and play hard and let him see the potential of our team. I'm not saying the finished product is right here right now, because we know it's not, but if he can see the potential of our team and see the organization is trying to put a team together to bring the New Jersey Nets back to the days when they were in the Finals, it could look good for him." ... LeBron James' decision to pass on the dunk contest didn't stop Garnett from tagging King James with a new nickname: "The Gift." ... Hill's advice to LeBron, the newest Next Jordan? "Stay healthy," Hill said.

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
    • Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics
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