Jordan Hill had a good game in his return to the Garden with the Rockets, with 13 points and 5 rebounds in 25:25. He was exactly what we saw in New York: an active body with a nice shooting touch who often gets lost defensively and doesn't attack the boards with ferocity. Rick Adelman made several references to the fact that Hill needs to "play hard the whole time he's on the court." If he ever does get that kind of tenacity in his game -- along with some maturity -- he could be a very good role player at the NBA level.

D'Antoni was very sensitive before the game about the suggestion that he doesn't like to play rookies. It was incorrectly relayed to him that Hill made that suggestion, which is quite a stretch from the actual quote, which we posted in the previous blog.

"Coach D'Antoni, he relies on veterans more than rookies," Hill told the Houston Chronicle. "He feels like his rookies need to learn more in their first year so they could get everything down pat. I understood...."

Somehow that became: Jordan Hill suggested that you don't like to play rookies. And that got D'Antoni bristling.

"Where exactly does that come from? Seriously, exactly why don't I love to play rookies?" he said. "I played Amar'e. That's something that just cracks me up. I don't like to play rookies."

D'Antoni could have stopped there. But he didn't. And so the tabloid bonfire began.

"I don't like to play bad rookies," he said. "I like to play good rookies."

OK, that's the money quote, for sure. Though he didn't mention Hill by name here, the reference was pretty obvious. But it really didn't end with that. There was more in the context.

"I think any coach [would say] the same thing," he continnued. "I don't have anything against rookies at all. I like rookies. Most of the four-year guys have been rookies at one time. So you kind of like those guys. Jordan was in a position where, if you noticed, we had Al, Jared, David Lee. I tried to go with Milicic for a hile. We had about five guys, so a rookie is usually in the pecking order as the last guy. He didn't get a great chance, I agree, but at the same time, we're trying to thread the needle in making the playoffs and there was no reason to say, 'OK, Jared, you don't play. Let's play Jordan. Just couldn't find the reason.

"I do like Jordan. I think he'll be a nice player in the league. But that's about as far as it goes. But I do like rookies, I really do. Now if I don't play any rookies next year, that's just the way life is. But I love Toney Douglas, for example."

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It certainly helped that Douglas also had a career game, with 26 points. But he did have three critical turnovers (two charges drawn by Jared Jeffries and a lost dribble) in the final 2:29.

Word must have gotten back to Hill about D'Antoni's comments (as if in New York they wouldn't). A few hours after the game, Jordan posted a tweet on his Twitter page:

Giv me da opportunity and ill make da most out of it...DA GOOD ROOKIE!!! ; )

Touche.

* * *

* - Before Sunday's game, Jared Jeffries was acknowledging the frustration directed toward him from Knicks fans during his three-plus year run in New York after Isiah Thomas spent a full mid-level exception on him in 2006.

"What I do on a basketball court, if you're winning, is a lot more respected. When you're not winning games, it makes it more difficult for what I do to be appreciated."

What irony that Jeffries in his Garden return provide some more frustration for those still watching at this point of the season, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. I had just teased Jared about looking "well rested" -- he had been a DNP-CD in the last four games -- when Rick Adelman dusted him off late in the third quarter and sent him in the game after Shane Battier left the game with a knee issue.

Then, to paraphrase Douglas, Jeffries did what he do. He drew four charges, two on Douglas in the final 2:29, and disrupted the Knicks defensively with his length and smarts. Jeffries didn't score a single point in 13:24, but yet had a major impact on the final result of the Rockets' 116-112 win.

Though there remains some consternation about giving up Hill in that cap-clearing blockbuster trade with the Rockets, but no one in New York is at all outraged by the departure of Jeffries, who knew he was sure to be the next to go in the salary purge for 2010 salary cap space, not to mention players left over from the Thomas Era.

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At this point, the only players from Thomas' regime who remain on the payroll beyond this season are Eddy Curry ($11.2M) and Wilson Chandler ($2.1M).

"It was a matter of time," Jeffries said. "I knew what their bigger plans were as far as getting cap relief and having a chance to sign people this summer. The only unfortunate thing is I was here for the losing. I did want to be here when things turned around because I feel like it will turn around and they'll put together a productive team."

He also praised Mike D'Antoni as "an incredible coach" and feels "once he gets the pieces he needs, I think he's going to do very well here."

D'Antoni is often criticized for not putting enough emphasis on defense, yet utilized Jeffries -- one of the most limited offensive players in the NBA -- as a defensive specialist. Jeffries was quick to take umbrage with the suggestion that D'Antoni didn't coach or stress defense with the team.

"Mike's a realist," Jeffries said. "Defending is like anything else in the NBA, it's the talent-level. You can't have people who are not great defenders and expect them to be defenders. It's like having players who are not great scorers and asking them to be scorers . . . He does put emphasis on defense, but if you don't have defensive players, you're not going to be a great defensive team. It's not like he tells the guys, 'Don't guard anybody, just try and score'. That's not the case at all."

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Jeffries expects to be traded this summer as an expiring contract. He will be a free agent in 2011 and, who knows, D'Antoni liked him enough to consider bringing him back to New York -- albeit for a much lower price -- to be a defensive stopper off the bench.

Made you blink.