MINNEAPOLIS — The Phoenix Suns' season is all but over. Their playoff hopes were vanquished on Wednesday, rendering the final four games of the season virtually meaningless. You wouldn't know that by watching Grant Hill play on Saturday night.
The 14-year veteran gave his younger teammates a lesson in professionalism, scoring 19 points in 23 minutes to lead Phoenix to a 110-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"That guy's got more character than anybody that I know," interim coach Alvin Gentry said. "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 or coach effort with him and I think that's really important."
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.
"Just a terrible effort from start to finish," Wolves coach Kevin McHale said. "Hard to account for it. ... No bright spots. Nothing."
The youthful Wolves could learn a thing or two by watching Hill as well.
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.
"I think, it's been a pleasure, I can't say it enough," Hill said. "I've been feeling really good the last 6-8 weeks and in a week we won't be playing at all. I still want to be out there running them down. I want to play."
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 in the kind of performance that could push the old-school McHale into retirement at the end of the season.
"I'm not thinking down the road, I'm just thinking of how disgusted I was to watch that game," McHale said. "You feel bad for your fans. To come out on a Saturday evening and that's what you watch, there's no excuse for that."
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 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.
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.
"It was real disappointing," forward Kevin Love said. "We didn't show any energy, myself included. It was just one of those nights where nothing goes the right way, but we didn't make it go the right way for us."
Notes: Love had six rebounds to break Christian Laettner's franchise record for rebounds in a season by a rookie. But he played only 20 minutes because McHale was unhappy with his effort.
"If I could have played 10 other guys, I would played them," McHale said. "Unfortunately we didn't have 10 other people. I could've got people out of the stands, but I'm not sure that's legal."
The Timberwolves also played without veteran PG Kevin Ollie, who missed the game with a hip injury.
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.