ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—Grant Hill’s game is back because his pain is gone.
Ankle injuries sidelined Hill after he signed with Orlando before the 2000-01 season, limiting him to 47 games in four years. Now, though, he appears to be back at full strength.
“I feel like I’m continuing to get better every day at practice and every game, and just really kind of showing my teammates what I can do,” said Hill, who has declared this comeback his last. “And doing it, hopefully, day in and day out.”
Hill put together a vintage performance against the Jazz—shaking and baking before a fadeaway, the stop-pop-and-drop jumper, driving for a dunk or a dish. Playing a season-high 41 minutes, Hill added five rebounds and five assists.
“He was just tremendous,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “He’s always been a great player—knows how to play and doesn’t overdo anything. To see him healthy, I’m happy for him.”
Mostly firing jumpers over Andrei Kirilenko, usually a dependable defensive stopper, Hill shot 13-for-18 in his best offensive performance since scoring 36 points against Minnesota on April 10, 2000.
Hill remembers that game—he was still with the Detroit Pistons, and the stress fracture in his left ankle was badly flaring up.
But if he was in such pain, how was he able to play so well?
“Because I was good, man,” replied a proud Hill.
Francis scored 23 points after halftime, 14 in the final eight minutes as the Magic ran away from the Jazz. He also had nine rebounds, falling just shy of his seventh triple-double.
“We let Francis get on top of the basket, and we let him go down the baseline three or four times,” Sloan said. “Anybody can play this game defensively for the first 3 1/2 quarters. But when you get down the stretch, that’s where you break down.”
Utah also had problems when it had the ball late. Playing their second game in two nights, the Jazz had more turnovers (nine) than field goals (eight) in the fourth quarter en route to scoring 17 points. The Magic capitalized to end the game on a 31-12 tear.
Utah shot 40 percent after entering the game shooting an NBA-best 51 percent.
This was Orlando’s fourth win over a Western Conference team, matching its total from last year. Also, the Magic are undefeated in four home dates; last year, they won 11 games at home.
“You have to be a good team at home. It starts there,” coach Johnny Davis said. “We’re making steps to being a good road team, as well, but we’re just a little bit off right now. We’re not that far away.”
Orlando rookie Dwight Howard grabbed 11 rebounds, giving him double figures in his first eight games. That’s the longest streak to begin an NBA career since Shaquille O’Neal, also with the Magic, went 12 games with at least 10 rebounds.
Orlando guard Cuttino Mobley missed his fourth straight game with a strained groin. He hopes to play Saturday at Indiana. … Utah still has won 11 of 16 meetings against Orlando and leads the series overall, 20-12. … Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of the firing of former Magic coach Doc Rivers. Davis replaced Rivers that night—after a loss in Utah, coincidentally. Since then, Davis has compiled a record of 25-54. Rivers now coaches the Boston Celtics.