HILL AND BARNES SEE CLIPPERS AS ‘SPECIAL’ SITUATION

Grant Hill has played in the NBA for 19 seasons. Matt Barnes has suited up for nine teams. And while neither has claimed a championship, both veterans view the Clippers as perhaps their best shot to win one.

“It’s a new feeling for me,” Barnes said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s a new feeling for the organization. I think we’re enjoying it, but we want to continue. We’re not satisfied. We want to continue to get better.”

The Clippers (27-8) are off to their best start in franchise history by a significant margin, and after losses by the Spurs and Thunder on Monday, they once again own the best record in the NBA.

Their success, including just the ninth 17-game winning streak since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, has come without veterans Chauncey Billups, who has missed all but three games, and Hill, who is nearing a return to the court after being shutdown in October with a bone bruise in his right knee. On Tuesday, Hill was asked why at 40 years old he would push so hard to rehabilitate and come back.

“A chance to win a championship,” Hill said. “I think if you see what we’ve done thus far and I don’t think just with the guys that we’ve played, I don’t think that we’ve reached our potential yet. You don’t always have these opportunities and I’ve been in the league 19 years and to have a team that has this kind of talent, this kind of depth, this kind of character, I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a situation like this. And once you’re done playing there’s no looking back, so you want to give it all you can while you are playing.”

Hill’s comments echoed young superstar Blake Griffin from a day earlier when he called this year’s Clippers team a potential “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Hill and Barnes know it, too.

“The last few years you can slowly see that [the Clippers] were building something special here,” Barnes said.

“When they got Chris [Paul] last year, you knew they were really going to turn it up and all the acquisitions they made this summer, you knew that something good was going to happen.”



As for Hill, the 1993-94 Co-Rookie of the Year and seven-time All-Star, he is driven to play a role in the team’s push for its first-ever championship even if sitting out for nearly three months has been tough to deal with.

“It has been driving me crazy,” Hill said about watching the first 35 games of the year from the bench in a suit.

“But the good thing is that we’ve been playing great. Even more important than that we’ve got a bunch of really good guys and I think they’ve made me and Chauncey still feel like we’re a part of things and that makes it easier. But nevertheless, it’s still no fun not being able to play.”

According to Clippers, head coach Vinny Del Negro, Hill may be playing soon.

“I want to see how he feels tomorrow,” Del Negro said after Hill went through his second consecutive practice Tuesday. “Go through shoot-around and then him and [Clippers Trainer] Jasen [Powell] will sit down and talk about it. He went through everything today. He’s not in game condition, so we’ll see tomorrow.”

Whether it is Wednesday against the Mavericks, Saturday against the Magic or sometime on the team’s three-game road trip the following week, Del Negro knows the team will remain patient.

“I think a lot of the guys are looking at the big picture here,” Del Negro said. “Everyone wants to play more, but whatever I feel is best for the team, those are the guys that are going to be out there. Everyone understands that and they’ve bought into that. But is it difficult? Of course. Sometimes guys get frustrated. But we’ve just got to work through it and we’ve got some other guys banged up, so if I can limit their minutes that would probably be a positive thing as we look at the big picture and a long season.”

Perhaps, nobody is looking at the big picture more than Hill or Barnes, and for both of them, it looks better than ever.