- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Grant Hill gave his young teammates a lesson in professionalism.

Two games after the Suns were eliminated from playoff contention, Hill scored 19 points in 23 minutes to lead Phoenix to a 110-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.

Hill was 7-for-8 from the floor and played as if this game actually mattered, even though the Suns will miss the postseason for the first time in five years.

Jared Dudley scored 16 points and Shaquille O’Neal had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns, who gave heavy minutes to youngsters Robin Lopez, Goran Dragic and Louis Amundson.

Sebastian Telfair had 21 points and shot 8-of-12 for Minnesota, but his teammates didn’t fare nearly as well in another slow start at Target Center.

The consummate professional, Hill set the tone early with 11 points in the first quarter one night after an embarrassing 17-point loss at Memphis.

The Wolves tied a season low for points in a quarter with just eight in the first period. They shot 14 percent (3-for-21) and didn’t make a field goal in the last 7:25 of the period despite playing against one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams.

Phoenix led 31-8 after one and Minnesota never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.

This season hasn’t gone according to either team’s plans. Both have dealt with injuries to key players, coaching changes and inconsistency while falling well short of expectations.

The Suns expected to make a run in the playoffs in their first full season with O’Neal in the middle. But they have found it difficult to find a balance between the run-and-gun Suns of the Mike D’Antoni era and the kind of grind-it-out team that GM Steve Kerr thought would be better suited to succeed in the playoffs.

Amare Stoudemire has been out since Feb. 18 with a detached retina and coach Terry Porter was fired and replaced with interim coach Alvin Gentry.

“To play these games at this time of year that are pretty much meaningless is really hard for them,” Gentry said of his proud veterans.

The Timberwolves didn’t have designs on the playoffs in Year 2 of their rebuilding project, but they certainly expected to make marked improvement that has not materialized.

Star forward Al Jefferson has been out since the All-Star break with a knee injury, which robbed the team of some momentum it had been building in January.

Kevin McHale was brought down from the front office to take over for Randy Wittman in December, and the team has also dealt with injuries to Corey Brewer, who has missed the season with a torn ACL, and Randy Foye, who hasn’t played since March 27 because of a hip problem.

Notes:@ Wolves F Kevin Love had six rebounds to break Christian Laettner’s franchise record for rebounds in a season by a rookie. … The Timberwolves also played without veteran PG Kevin Ollie, who missed the game with a hip injury. … Before the game Love received his award for Western Conference rookie of the month. … O’Neal caused a minor disaster in the first quarter when he tumbled near the Wolves bench and sent the Gatorade cooler crashing to the floor. … Lopez had a career-high 11 rebounds.

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