The cuts all along Jordan Hill’s face have since hardened, the bruising images personifying a day’s worth of labor where he battles in the paint, fights for rebounds and boosts the Lakers’ energy.
Hill hasn’t provided that job description for quite some time. Partly because he missed six games earlier this month because of a hyperextended right knee. Partly because Hill didn’t match Mike D’Antoni’s preference for smaller and quicker lineups that feature stretch forwards. Partly because D’Antoni sensed Hill’s energy level wane as fatigue caught up to him.
But in the Lakers’ 103-94 victory Sunday over the Orlando Magic at Staples Center, Hill provided all the ingredients that made a key reserve for the past two seasons. So much that Hill’s career-high 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting and 13 rebounds in 28 minutes prompted D’Antoni to say he scrap his small ball philosophies and start Hill should this keep up.
“I’d like to go the other way, but if you don’t win, I’m not going to go that way,” D’Antoni said. “If Jordan plays this way, we’re better this way.”
The Lakers (23-46) haven’t won for quite a while now. But D’Antoni had mostly kept his small-ball lineup this season with combinations for various reasons. The plus-minus ratings actually show the Lakers thrive better with a smaller lineup. The Lakers’ smaller lineup boasts more speed and athleticism, giving D’Antoni hope that the team could compensate for its lack of size elsewhere. The Lakers horrible defensive rankings where they have finished 29th in points allowed (108.6) has stayed constant through the team’s 31 different starting lineups.
Yet, Hill has risen above that, posting a career-high eight double doubles this season and has posted at least 20 points in four games this season.
“I just want to go out there and play,” said Hill, whose $3.5 million contract expires after this season. “Mike’s system is a great system for guys who can shoot and for guys who can spread the floor. Of course, I want to go out there and play, but anything can happen.”
Yes it can.
Before Hill’s injury, he sat out in four games because D’Antoni preferred Robert Sacre’s defense to complement the Lakers’ smaller lineup. The Lakers shopped Hill around leading up to the trade deadline with options including the Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Earlier this week, Hill said he missed showing up for the team photo on time simply because he forgot. Even though he praised Hill’s game against Orlando, D’Antoni quickly changed subjects and gushed about Kent Bazemore’s eight assists.
“He has to stay healthy and stay in condition,” D’Antoni said. “When he has his energy, he’s pretty good. Everybody can get better defensively. You can always a get a little bit better. Jordan obviously has a great place in this league. He can put up numbers.”
Nick Young expressed skepticism about Hill’s game, too. But Young’s words reflected more of his affection for Hill than anything else.
“The way Jordan Hill played today, that’s what we need every night,” Young said. “We need to bring that same intensity and I don’t know if he can do it again though.”
Young wasn’t finished, mindful that Hill intervened during the Lakers’ loss Friday to Washington where he pushed Marcin Gortat away from a scuffle involving Young and Drew Gooden.
“I might have to give him some shoes. Some swap meet shoes,” Young said. “I’ll take him to Nike town, give him some basics.”
Young then suggested Hill was the most elated Laker for the team snapping its four-game losing streak.
“I’ve seen people jumping around with no clothes on,” Young said. “I’m not going to say any names, but it was Jordan Hill. It’s crazy.”
Here’s something else that isn’t crazy: Hill remained a never-ending ball of energy for two consecutive games since sitting out from his injury. Before his career night against Washington, Hill posted nine points on 4-of-7 shooting in 19 minutes.
“The rest definitely helped,” Hill said. “I felt like I could jump over anything. I felt more mobile and able to move quicker. I can get rebounds and move my feet on defense. I just have to go out there and provide energy every time I’m on the floor. I’m going to go at it and after it.”
Presuming Hill receives that chance, of course.