Suns 110, Timberwolves 97 – Rookies' night out

Grant Hill certainly isn't throwing in the towel. (AP/Ann Heisenfelt)

Grant Hill certainly isn't throwing in the towel. (AP/Ann Heisenfelt)

Grant Hill wants to be a Phoenix Sun next year, and you know what, every single Suns fan should be pulling for him to be back.

Let’s see if Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver finally get it right and bring back the man who doesn’t seem to realize the Suns’ season is over, the man who has played with heart all year and the man who is about to play in all 82 games.

This was never more evident than Saturday night in Phoenix’s 110-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. On a night when Hill logged the most minutes of all the starters (23), he showed the next generation of Suns the way it should be done.

He scored 19 points in those 23 minutes, missing just one shot and getting four steals. The next highest point starter was Shaquille O’Neal, who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes.

“I told you, if you know anything about (Hill), it’s not a surprise,” head coach Alvin Gentry told “The guy has more character than anyone that I know. He’s such a professional that every night he steps out there, he tries his best. He may not play well, but you never have to say anything about effort.”

Hill, like Shaq, has flourished despite his age due in large part to the work of the Suns’ training staff. It really speaks volumes that both are not only putting up such great numbers in Phoenix but that they’ve been so healthy. For this fact alone, Hill and the Suns seem like a match made in heaven.

He led the charge in the first quarter when the Suns scored 31 points while giving up a shocking eight points. Yes, eight, as in the least we’ve seen the Suns give up in … a really long time.

This game was also a chance to watch your future Phoenix Suns get their minutes. Five reserves played more than 20 minutes, and Gentry went 12 deep. Not surprisingly, Leandro Barbosa had 16 in 23 minutes. But what may be surprising is the play of Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, and Robin Lopez.

Dudley also had 16, taking 12 shots and making four threes. Lopez had a career-high 11 rebounds in 26 of his most productive minutes all year long. Dragic had a bad shooting night, going 3-for-11 from the field, but dished eight assists, also a career high. It was one more than his previous career best, set Friday in Memphis. Alando Tucker added 10 in just 13 minutes.

And for the first time in a while, we’ve got something to smile about. Ladies and gentlemen, these are your new Suns.

Nobody except the powers that be know what this team will look like next year, and they’ve certainly got their issues, but play like this from Dragic and Lopez especially are a good sign if the rebuilding process begins soon.

Of course they’ll have to work through the growing pains of a young team when that happens, but this game and the next two are a great platform for them to prove to the coaches, fans, and front office that this is the new face of Phoenix Suns basketball.

“I’m happy with Goran,” Gentry said. “He didn’t shoot the ball well tonight, but he had eight assists. I thought Robin did a good job controlling the paint and protecting the basket for us. It’s just unfortunate for him that he doesn’t have a lot of minutes this year.”

Gentry will have the opportunity to give him minutes in the final two games, though, as the Suns have little to play for besides giving the fans some semblance of confidence.

Solid games from Dragic, Lopez, Dudley, and Tucker would likely do just that. Career nights from Phoenix’s future point guard and center have done that for me already personally.

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