By Matt Wong
A run-of-the-Hill return
NEW YORK -- The game was supposed to be about Grant Hill's glorious comeback. Or the New York Knicks' new and improved rotation. Or both.
Because in the end, Hill was, well, a player who looked like he was playing his first game of the season after returning from a sports hernia injury. And the Knicks were, well, the Knicks, a team still hurting for an identity.
Hey, nothing really goes as planned for bad teams, right?
Good thing for the Orlando Magic they have a man-child by the name of Dwight Howard, who posted another double-double (23 points, 13 rebounds) in a 105-90 win, and threw down a couple of resounding dunks that were even more thunderous thanks to an amped up mike on the rim.
For Hill, he managed to score seven points in 22 minutes. "I expected to be a little rusty, but it was good to get out there with the guys," he said.
And the feeling was mutual. Even by the Garden crowd, who cheered him during introductions. The same crowd that booed the Knicks in the third and fourth quarters, by the way.
But on this night, Hill's presence actually made the biggest difference when he wasn't on the floor.
With Hill back in the starting lineup, Hedo Turkoglu was allowed to return to his role off the bench, a role in which he looked mighty comfortable, scoring 18 points in 30 minutes, connecting on 4-of-5 3s.
The fact that there was never a defender's hand in his face certainly helped matters. The Knicks' defense was so poor even Will Smith was telling the Knicks to "switch" over the sound system.
As Larry Brown lamented after the game, "We didn't handle screening situations well. Our guys were late on rotations."
The rotation that mattered most heading into the game didn't pan out so well either.
On Tuesday, Brown stated that he was ready to settle on a lineup of about nine to 10 players, a lineup that would feature younger blood and tandems that would enhance chemistry.
But when rookie Channing Frye picked up two early fouls in the first five minutes of the game, that plan went out the window, and Brown was forced to play 11 guys, including vets Antonio Davis and Malik Rose.
And so, the Knicks are still in need of an identity, unlike Grant Hill, who is allowed some time to find his former self.
For now, call them Team Turnover, for their continued carelessness with the ball and ongoing roster changes. Or just call them a bad team.
Because we know how the story goes for bad teams. Well, not really.
Matt Wong is an NBA editor at ESPN.com.
Suns forward Shawn Marion, showing the kind of hops that he "schooled some civilians" with in a current commercial, scored 23 points and pulled in 19 rebounds. However, Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki (29 points, 13 rebounds) helped win this round, 102-96.
The Dallas Mavericks' 102-96 defeat of the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night was a matchup of two offensive machines whose identities are evolving. Dallas and Phoenix are developing their defense this season, each in a different way.
For Phoenix, the newcomers are making the biggest difference. Raja Bell has proven to be a solid upgrade defensively. Boris Diaw can defend any position (though he needs to avoid foul trouble). And Kurt Thomas is just plain tough.
These three, along with the shot blocking of Shawn Marion, have helped the Suns begin to change their defensive disposition. By the time Amare Stoudemire returns they will be well on their way to having a solid defensive mindset.
Why the change for the Suns and Mavs? They realize no team is a legitimate Western Conference contender until it can defend at or near the level of the Spurs.
-- Jim O'Brien
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In his latest return from injury, Magic forward Grant Hill scored seven points. (It's not true that the Knicks' Trevor Ariza took the call to play D with his feet literally.)
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
He's not physically intimidating. He probably could get carded going to a PG-13 movie.
But know this: Channing Frye's got game, in particular a great shot. Watching the Knicks' brightest spot this season in a 105-90 loss to the Magic on Wednesday night, Frye didn't shine too brightly (10 points, nine rebounds), but the East's Rookie of the Month for November demonstrated again his nice touch from 20 feet and in.
However, even at 6-foot-11, the post is not his home office. And it probably should never be.
Two games show how the Knicks' top pick does his best work when not loitering near the paint. In the Dec. 9 game against the Suns, he played more in the post and missed 15 of his 19 shots. But when he scored a career-high 30 points against the Bucks in his last game, he was in his element, roving as a perimeter threat, and coming off the screen and roll.
The Knicks have a good player to work with. Assistant coach Herb Williams likes his footwork. Teammate Antonio Davis likes how he does his homework, comes early and stays late.
Sometimes, with his long, lean build, Knicks fans may rub their eyes and think it's Marcus Camby still out there. I think Frye's a better shooter. If Eddy Curry can ever be the threat in the post that requires "double-big" coverage, then Frye's game will benefit even more.
While I think Andrew Bogut would have been hard to pass up, Knicks GM Isiah Thomas says he would have taken Frye with the first overall pick. Maybe he knew something we didn't.
-- Will Perdue in New York
Grant Hill made his 2005-2006 debut for the Magic at Madison Square Garden after sitting out the first 19 games of the season. Hill missed only 25 games over his first six NBA seasons, all with Detroit (from 1994-1995 to 1999-2000). Over that span, the Pistons had a winning record when Hill played (227-208, .522) but were under .500 in the games he sat out (.360, 9-16).
But in six seasons with Orlando (2000-2001 to 2005-2006), Hill has played only 27 percent of the team's games (115 of 430), and the Magic has a losing record both with (55-60, .478) and without him (140-175, .444).
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
I don't hate the notion of trading Ron Artest for Antoine Walker. As the second option behind Jermaine O'Neal, Walker would be comfortable and productive. Problem is, Miami -- where I think Pat Riley, Shaq, 'Zo and Co. could control Artest -- would be an absolute beast. The Pacers wouldn't have a chance against them.
The Chicago Bulls are widely seen as Peja Stojakovic's most likely next destination, but any team that acquired Peja during this season would also get his "Larry Bird rights" -- which means that team would have the opportunity to re-sign the 28-year-old, even if it meant going over the usual salary-cap limits.
If Chicago fears that another team will acquire Stojakovic and effectively take him off next summer's market, the best time might be now to put together a package (Luol Deng, Tim Thomas and draft picks) that would be more appealing to the Kings than a straight-up swap for Artest.