Updated: Nov. 21, 2006, 6:42 PM ET

Long, arduous Hill climb

Grant Hill has experienced devastating injuries, having appeared in more than 30 games only once in his first five seasons in Orlando.

Most would have retired long ago.

But it's a testament to his strength of will, and sense of loyalty to his team, that he's back again, giving his top effort for the Magic.

Now 34 and healthy again, he's shown shades of the Hill of old, sending Orlando off to a 7-4 mark, including Monday night's 95-86 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. He's leading the team in scoring at 16.1 ppg, out on the court for about 30 minutes per game.

I wish more young guys would have watched Hill's example in this case. He could have just taken the money; instead, he gave them more than what they could have reasonably expected.

Of course, when you're talking about the Magic, you're talking about the game's next great big man. And Dwight Howard is their best player -- that was 24 points and 23 boards he put up against Memphis. He's got the fierce will like we saw with a young Tim Duncan in San Antonio.

But I see Hill as their leader, totally irreplaceable. I think his tenacity has led this young Orlando team that had been struggling much of last year. The team's start is direct result of his example. To weather as much as he did, I think his teammates owe him their best effort every night.

Often, teams struggle with considerations of whether to take a team in a younger direction, or rely on veterans. But I think Brian Hill has done tremendous job blending these elements in Orlando -- too often we forget the coach is vital to making this all work. I thought the Magic were smart in bringing him back -- sometimes, a team makes a coaching change because it needs a new voice. His voice is welcome once again.

His team's interior defense is tremendous. Heck, they even have Hedo Turkoglu playing D. In the game against Memphis, you saw Darko Milicic have one of his lesser outings.

He's had some good ones, too. Milicic is a guy who has been through the ringer -- the pressures of the NBA can be a shock to system for a lot of players. I think it's going to take a while to recover, and learn where his place is in the league. He's a good player, but he needs to be strong-willled about these adjustments. Very difficult.

I see the Magic becoming a playoff team this year. They're still some players away from becoming a championship team, and in going for those players, they've got to keep the identity of a tough-minded team.

Much has been made about the kind of salary cap room the Magic will have when Hill's number comes off the books. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make. I'd love to see Grant Hill have, finally, at long last, a positive outcome in Orlando.

His basketball story won't stop when his playing days are over. Grant Hill would be a great coach -- he's a leader, with a strong understanding of the game. On the court now, he's obviously not player he was in Detroit, but he still has a lot to offer.

The Magic are getting that rare chance to see it. It's a great thing to see.

ESPN analyst Kiki Vandeweghe, who was the Nuggets GM for five years until last spring, played 13 NBA seasons, averaging 19.7 ppg for four teams from 1981-1993.

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Birthday Party In Salt Lake City
Bynum and Jabbar
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
On his 25th birthday, Carlos Boozer had 35 in Utah's win over Toronto. "We're having fun. I think you could see that out there in the fourth quarter with the fans going crazy," said Boozer.


Observation Deck: 'Sap Rap

ROOKIE THING: Rudy Gay has talent oozing from ever pore, Brandon Roy is veteran smooth, and Adam Morrison is capable of big scoring nights, but the best rookie this year is Paul Millsap. And it's not close. He plays for the NBA's best playing team thus far, and Jerry Sloan can't imagine not having him on the floor. His hands are so sticky he's got Lester Hayes jealous. And he makes plays everywhere. -- David Thorpe

YAO ADVICE: In his prime, Shaq had his way with the league due to his completely unique, and amazing, combination of size, strength, agility, along with the disposition to dominate. Yao Ming is a little bit weaker and less agile, but his extra five inches and increased skill make him almost as hard to guard, because he is a terrific athlete (just not up to Shaq's level). All that is left for him to truly destroy the competition is that dominating disposition. -- Thorpe

CHANGE THE CHANNING: A lot of Channing Frye's troubles can be attributed to one problem; he is trying to play like Lamar Odom when he should be playing like P.J. Brown. In other words, stop trying to be a do-it-all guy and instead focus on mastering a few things. He can always add to his game later. -- Thorpe

BOSH SPARKS: Memo to the Raptors organization; when you are within three points of the league-leading team (the Jazz in this case) you may want to consider getting Chris Bosh some touches in the final few possessions. Maybe even call a timeout to ensure he gets the ball. I mean, hasn't he proved to you that he's your best and most clutch player? -- Thorpe

LA. TECH GUY, JUST LIKE MAILMAN: Jazz rookie forward Paul Millsap is the very early leader for the "Steal of the 2006 NBA Draft Award." Millsap, the 47th pick in June, can play. He had 18 and 10 in 22 minutes on Saturday, and 20 and 7 in 23 minutes on Monday. Look for him to produce even more when Jerry Sloan finds more minutes for him in the rotation. -- Chris Ramsay

DEVIN-STATING: Dallas has won six straight and you have to think Devin Harris is at least partially responsible. Harris is knifing through the lane and finishing at the rim again. Harris had a season-high eight free throw attempts and looked quick and easy in a 17 point, 6 assist, 6 rebound performance against the Bobcats on Monday. -- Chris Ramsay

MONTA'S THE MAN: Steve Nash was Steve Nash, of course, and made the game-winner ... but for most of the night 21-year-old Golden State guard Monta Ellis looked like the best player on the floor in the Warriors' heartbreaking 113-110 loss to the Suns. -- Royce Webb

GOIN' NOO-CLEAR: Steve Creamer, CEO of EnergySolutions, which runs a radioactive waste disposal facility 75 miles west of Salt Lake City, was on the Jazz-Raps broadcast to trumpet the naming of Utah's arena. He was informative about the wide scope of the business.

Now let the nuclear-tipped fun begin with some lines you might overhear in the coming days: "Power forward has a whole new meaning with these depleted uranium elbow pads ... I think I saw Montgomery Burns on fan cam ... Show a little half-life out there fellas ... I hear we can bring back Stockton and Malone with a, ahem, 'special' EnergySolutions diet." -- Andrew Ayres



The Unpredictable Chris Paul
Chris Paul

When Chris Paul was playing in a golf tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina two summers ago, he heard from most everybody there how his new team, the Hornets, wouldn't win 20 games.

I remember Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley among those who were kidding the point guard who had yet to play an NBA game. It was a fun time.

But Paul had the last laugh, leading his New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets team to 38 wins, nearly making the playoffs.

That day was on my mind when I talked to Paul last week for an NBA Fastbreak feature. He still comes across as extremely humble. He understands how good he is, but it has never really been about that -- it's about doing what he loves.

You see what motivates him. He talked with me about the effect of losing his grandfather, who was killed during Paul's senior year of high school, and how he helped prepare him for what he is doing now.

And that is becoming the best point guard he can be. He says he tries to draw on the virtues of the game's best. Here cited four fellow PGs now in the game from whom he draws inspiration:

Steve Nash. Paul admires his ability to force the tempo, to impose his style on his opponent. What's most impressive, no matter who he plays against, his ability dictates the game's pace.

Jason Kidd. His greatest ability is the way he's always around the basketball, always in the middle of everything. That's a trait that he wants to develop.

Chauncey Billups. Paul admires his leadership and ability to make big shots -- and to demand more from teammates.

Allen Iverson. He's a smaller guard like Chris, but in many ways is probably the most physical player in the league. A lot to admire there.

Taking from these four, his aim is to build himself into the perfect point guard.

He's excited about the new-look Hornets. He misses P.J. Brown, sent to Chicago in the Tyson Chandler deal. Brown was really the leader of the team, and I think he feels that responsibility has fallen on his shoulders.

In order to lead, guys have to be willing to follow. This year, for the first time, there are expectations on the Hornets and on him. They are now looked on as a team that could make the playoffs.

So, remembering how we doubted his team last year, I asked him if he thought his team was going to make the playoffs.

But he wouldn't guarantee that. That's probably the point guard in him, thinking strategically, thinking two steps ahead.

He did say the team would win more than the 38 games they won last year. We'll remember that.

-- Greg Anthony




Rocket Surge

Yao was swatted by the smallest man on the court, but in the end, the Rockets beat the Knicks, 97-90.

Rockets Rule At MSG



Behind The Back Attack
Nash and Biedrins
Rocky Widner//NBAE via Getty Images
Steve Nash finds a way to pass around big Andris Biedrins. Nash hit the winning 3 for the Suns in a 113-110 win in Oakland.



Extreme Behavior
Carlos Boozer

Monday's Best
Jazz forward Carlos Boozer: Sinks 14 of 16 shots en route to 35 points in Utah's 101-96 win over Toronto. Had nine boards too. That's a 10-1 start for your Utah Jazz.

Darko Milicic

Monday's Worst
Magic forward Darko Milicic: First, the good news. He had three blocks. But his 18 ineffectual minutes included misses of all five shots and a couple of sleepy-looking plays in a loss to the struggling Grizz.

Quote of the Day
"I was blocked by a 5-3 guy before, so that's not a record."
-- Yao Ming, after getting swatted by 5-9 Nate Robinson.

See how all 138 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



Truth Or Deron
Deron Williams

J.G. (Provo, Utah): All right stat freak, this one is for you: Deron Williams' Efficiency Rating is currently 21.40. I think that's something you never imagined happening, and do you see him continue to mold into one of the top young point guards in the league?

John Hollinger: Expected to hear some Williams smack from the Utah crowd today. Gotta say, I've been impressed. The key thing is that he's getting into the paint so much more easily than last year -- even his great finish at the end a year ago was more the result of hot 3-point shooting, but now he's creating and breaking people down. That last play against Boston to set up Matt Harpring was a perfect example -- no way he does that a year ago.

See the full John Hollinger chat Insider



Wong's Scenes From MSG

Yao's lone trip to NYC is usually a tough ticket, especially since seemingly Gotham's entire Chinese population floods the Garden. Not this time. The official attendance number was 17,533, but that was generous. Entire sections were empty. Either everyone stayed home to watch the Giants on Monday Night Football or the boycott has begun.

• And too bad for them. Despite another Knick loss, they missed the play of the year. With 14 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Nate Robinson went all David and Goliath on Yao, having no business being in the paint, trying to reject the shot of a man nearly two feet taller than him with only his own body to sling shot.

But that's what he did, and it wasn't of the surprise, got-you-from-behind variety. It was straight up. In your face. And lefty. To add injury to insult, Robinson caught Yao in the eye with the follow through, leaving the big man keeled over in pain and the crowd in ecstasy.

• One-game scouting report on Yao: Back to the basket, spinning to his right? Strong. Back to the basket, spinning to his right alongside the left baseline? Pretty much unstoppable. Back to the basket, spinning to his left? Not so effective, resulting in bad shots, bad passes and TOs.

David Lee (15 points, 12 rebounds) was the first Knick to come off the bench. Within seconds, he took it strong to Mount Mutombo for a lefty layup and ran down the court to draw a charge. He even guarded Yao effectively.

Even Shane Battier noticed Lee's fight, singling him out as the young Knick he was most impressed with -- a high compliment coming from Mr. Intangible himself, a player Lee says he looked up to in college. "At one point in the game," Lee said. "I went up to (Battier) and I was like, 'You have zero points and your team is still winning.' He found other ways to impact the game."

• Shane Battier's final line: 6 points on 2 of 4 shooting (one of those buckets coming on an accidental tip-in by Quentin Richardson), seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, three blocks. Not to mention the three charges he took, the crosscourt passes he made when he was double teamed in the post and the reckless dive he took to recover a loose ball that may well have been an Eli Manning fumble.

• Watching the combination of Robinson, Lee and Renaldo Balkman is reminiscent of playing in a pickup game when your team just scored a basket and you feel the momentum shifting and everyone's running back on defense yelling, "Hands up, hands up." These guys are practically doing jumping jacks on defense. A beautiful sight.

• Watching Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis get yanked a minute into the second half? A painful sight.

Patrick Ewing was in the house, receiving a standing ovation and looking at home while still looking unfamiliar without his hightop fade. However, when the Knick great visited the Rockets locker room after the game, the reception wasn't as kind. His buddies Juwan Howard and Dikembe Mutombo showed no mercy making fun of his weight. And even when Ewing went into another room, Mutombo continued in that one-of-a kind, raspy voice of his, "Number 33 ... Fat-rick Ewing!"

-- Matt Wong in New York City



News and Notes

Seattle coach Bob Hill scrapped his small starting lineup with extra guard Earl Watson after just one game and put Johan Petro back in at center. Petro had 12 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes. Watson was 1-for-7 shooting. De facto C Nick Collison had nine points and five rebounds off the bench.

-- The Associated Press

 

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