Grant Hill finally made his Clippers debut Saturday, entering, strangely, at the start of the fourth quarter of a close game and playing six minutes. That was the encouraging news from the otherwise disappointing development of the 104-101 loss to the Magic in Los Angeles.
Now the Clippers wait on the return of Chauncey Billups. That will potentially be the big news.
Hill is an important boost for the defense, with the ability to guard multiple positions once he builds to full speed after being sidelined since exhibition play by a bruised right knee. He won’t be a huge difference maker by the numbers because the Clips are tracking to a top-five finish in opponent shooting, but the versatility is invaluable and gives a deep team more lineup options.
There is no timetable for Billups rejoining the lineup after battling tendinitis in the left foot. There is, however, Chris Paul in anticipation.
As much as Paul was excited about finally getting small forward Hill in uniform, he is especially anxious for the chance to play alongside Billups in the backcourt again and the accompanying opportunity to play off the ball more. CP3, a threat with the shot as well as the pass, has been imagining the possibilities for weeks.
Bad news for the rest of the league, in other words. Paul is already playing at an MVP level and still sees the chance for a bigger impact than he made the first 37 games.
“It gets the ball out of my hands,” Paul said recently. “Willie (Green, the current starter) is unbelievable, but Willie’s a shooting guard…. When we get out there and it’s me and Chauncey, he can bring the ball up the court. Now I’m on the wing and everybody’s not just looking at me.”
Hill’s first non-exhibition action since April 24 with the Suns resulted in a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd when he checked in, followed by two points (two free throws, three missed field goals) and two rebounds while playing with a cap on minutes. But the 40-year-old who rebuffed several others offers to join the Clippers as a free agent in the summer reported no pain around the right knee.