DENVER — Sonics coach Bob Hill conceded to a quiet reality.
Given his team is only mathematically teetering on postseason hopes, Hill said this would be his first season to not reach the playoffs with a team he headed from the beginning of training camp. He also said anyone following the Sonics this season knows why Seattle wasn't a true contender — injuries.
From Ray Allen (ankles) to Robert Swift (knee), the Sonics haven't had a healthy roster since October.
"There's always something wrong," Hill said. "With the situation we've been in, it's been injuries. That's my fault, and that's fine."
But in his first one-on-one meeting with new principal owner Clay Bennett prior to Sunday's game against San Antonio, Hill didn't plead his case. The coach is in the final months of a two-year deal, and vice chairman Lenny Wilkens said a decision regarding Hill's future will be made after the season.
While the Sonics haven't performed well consistently, only point guard Luke Ridnour is not averaging a career best in either points, rebounds, or assists. Hill and his staff have drastically improved five players — Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison, Earl Watson, Johan Petro and Damien Wilkins, and Allen was averaging a career-best 26.4 points on two bum ankles.
Because of the players' development under strenuous situations and the fact that the Sonics have played 31 games that were decided by six points or less, dropping 19, Hill believes he should return next season.
Wednesday's game at a glance
Player of the game:
Forward Rashard Lewis is welcoming his role as the late go-to option, scoring 13 of his game-high 33 in the fourth quarter to lead Seattle's win.
Reserves of the game: Earl Watson had nine points and 10 assists, and Gelabale had nine points and four rebounds.
Digits: The Nuggets were 4 for 18 from three-point range.
Next: Memphis on Friday at 7:30 p.m., KeyArena.
"I think I've earned the right to coach this team healthy," said Hill, who also mentioned how he improved players like Reggie Miller and Detlef Schrempf while coaching at Indiana. He has also been an NBA head coach with San Antonio and the Knicks. "That's how I feel. Based on the improvement of the players, the development, putting them in a style, getting Ray and Rashard having career years — I've earned it. That doesn't mean anything, but that's how I feel.
"But I don't want to come back to Seattle just to come back. I want to come back to win. I came to Seattle to win, that's why I work so hard. I have to win a championship in my life, that's what I want to do. And if you think this has been easy on me this year, you're nuts."
Bennett and Hill met in Hill's office at the training facility, and Hill said he was impressed with the owner. According to Hill, Bennett's attitude is similar to owners in Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio, where winning is expected and the "team is everything."
"Everywhere I've been I've left a footprint," Hill said. "If I don't get the opportunity to coach them next year, then I'm going to feel like I failed here."
• The Sonics will not practice today because of back-to-back games in Minnesota and Denver and an upcoming grueling stretch when the team will play six games in nine days, three on the road.
• Sonics reserve Andre Brown suffered a nasal fracture in the opening quarter against Denver, getting hit by former Sonics forward Reggie Evans.