Grant Hill returns to practice

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers' already-deep bench could get a little more robust by the end of the week.

Grant Hill, who has been sidelined all season with a bone bruise in his right knee, practiced with the team Monday and could be back as early as Saturday, when the Clippers play the Orlando Magic at Staples Center.

“We’ll see how he does tomorrow in practice, and we’ll make that assessment how he reacts to a little more physical contact tomorrow,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Monday. “He was doing all the drills today and for the past couple of weeks, so he said he feels good. But we’ve got to get him out there with some contact, and obviously his rhythm and timing is off, but it won’t take him long.”

Hill played in two exhibition games against the Miami Heat in China, but hasn’t played since Oct. 15, when the team returned from Shanghai. Del Negro has been careful to bring the 40-year-old Hill back slowly from the injury.

“They’re tough,” Del Negro said of bone bruise injuries. “You get that bruise in there, and you know Grant’s got a few miles on him, too. We’ve been playing pretty well, at times, so you know we just want to get Chauncey [Billups] and Grant and give them as much time as possible -- and keep the big picture in mind with those guys, because we know we’re going to need them.”

“We need them as soon as possible just to get the chemistry and rhythm and everything down,” the coach said. “But they know how to play; it’s just a matter of getting the chemistry down with the rest of the guys.”

Billups, who has played in three games this season, is nearing a return to practice after recovering from tendinitis in his left foot and could be back on the court by the end of the month.

Jamal Crawford, who has missed the past two games with a sore left foot, did not practice Monday but could play in Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

Eric Bledsoe, who has seen an increase in his minutes given the absence of Billups and Hill, has been working with Hill during his recovery and thinks Hill is ready to return to the court.

“[Grant] is trying to get back, so I am kind of working with him a little bit,” Bledsoe said. “He’s looking great.

“He’s a great mentor. He’s been in this league a long time and he’s seen a lot of things. So he’s trying to help me overcome some stuff.”