Denton's Notebook: March 21, 2012

By John Denton
March 21, 2012

ORLANDO – Informed that the former home court of the Orlando Magic, Amway Arena, will be imploded later this week, Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill joked that he might stick around Orlando a few extra days.

Hill said he’s happy that the Magic play now in the state-of-the-art Amway Center because the former home court reminded him too much of his troubled time in Orlando from 2000 through 2007.

In seven years with the Magic, Hill missed 374 games because of a broken left ankle that required five surgeries to correct. A sixth surgery was needed for a sports hernia, putting a damper on his final season in Orlando.

But even as 39 years old, Hill has been reborn in Phoenix. He’s missed just 18 games in five seasons in Phoenix and has been out of only six games the last four years. Hill even survived a violent collision with Miami Heat forward LeBron James on Tuesday night and never missed a beat.

``There was a collision and the middle-aged man got up first,’’ Hill said. ``Yep, the old man was the first one to his feet.’’

The Suns are pushing Hill for a spot on the All-Defensive team this season because of the way he’s taken to his role of guarding the other team’s top players. He’s checked everyone from Kobe Bryant, to Derrick Rose to Blake Griffin this season with varying degrees of success.

Hill said his idea of defense early in his career was try to pick up two quick fouls on the player he had to guard on the other end. But now he’s embracing his role as a stopper even though he’s the second-oldest player in the league (by one day behind Kurt Thomas).

``How crazy is that?’’ Hill said of being touted as an elite defender. ``I didn’t start playing defense until I was 36. I was the college Defensive Player of the Year, so I’ve got a foundation there. I kind of fell into this role in Phoenix and it’s worked out well.’’

GORTAT THRIVING: Marcin Gortat has blossomed into one of the most productive centers in the NBA since being traded by the Magic to the Suns last December.

Gortat is averaging career highs in scoring (15.9 points) and rebounding (10 rpg.). He is one of only three players in the league averaging at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game, joining Orland’s Dwight Howard and Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum.

Much of Gortat’s success can be attributed to the passing and playmaking of Suns guard Steve Nash, but it’s also because he was one of the hardest workers during his time in Orlando. He made himself into a solid jump shooter and has perfected hook shots with both hands.

``He could not be in a better place for the way he plays the game,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``He is, and always has been, a great pick-and-roll guy. He understands that game. He screens and rolls hard. He’s got great quickness. He’s got tremendous hands. He can catch on the move and finish. And he’s playing with arguably the best pick-and-roll point guard of all-time. So it really fits his skills. And he’s making a few jumpers and an occasional post-up. But if he’s averaging 16 a game, I’m going to say in the course of a year he’s averaging 12 to 14 on pick-and-rolls from Steve Nash.

``I’m really, really happy for him because this is a guy who’s come a long, long way and has worked extremely hard,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``He deserves the success that he’s having.’’

ETC: Hill, who played parts of three seasons in Orlando with Howard, said he was happy to see the Magic’s franchise remain in Orlando. Said Hill: ``Dwight was obviously a little torn, but he’s got a good situation here. I’d like to see him stay. As someone who knows him and has played a few games here, I hope he’s in Orlando a long time.’’ … Van Gundy feels that much of the reason behind Orlando’s lackluster 59-point effort on Monday was due to the team playing on a back-to-back and having little energy. The Magic struggled mightily on back-to-backs early in the season, got better for a stretch and have lost on the second night of back-to-backs the past two instances. The Magic are 15-15 this season when playing on consecutive nights – 8-7 on the first night and 7-8 in the second game. … The Magic are home again Friday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They hit the road next week for games in Toronto and New York.

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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