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Saturday, February 12, 2005; Page D05

WHO'S NEXT?

at Pistons

Tonight, 7:30

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Larry Hughes had the pin removed from his right thumb and began shooting jumpers before the Wizards played the Los Angeles Clippers last night. "I'm just working through the soreness and stiffness to get ready," Hughes said. Hughes, the league's leader in steals per game (2.82), has been out since breaking his thumb against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 15 and said he still plans to return on Feb. 23 against Memphis. "It won't do any good to come back before then, because I have such a long break to get ready," said Hughes, who plans to fly to Denver on Feb. 20 to watch his all-star teammates, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. . . .

Former Wizard Bobby Simmons returned to MCI Center as a starter for the Clippers, which was a big deal for him. "It's not just this game. It's any game as a starter," said Simmons, who is averaging career highs of 16.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in his second season in Los Angeles. He scored a career-high 30 points in the season opener against Seattle and is making a strong push for the most improved player award. "I'm pretty much getting a chance to show how I play basketball. I'm just going out there having fun," Simmons said. "My game has blossomed a lot since I've been here. When I was here, I wasn't getting any minutes." Simmons averaged 3.5 points in two seasons in Washington and he has already played more minutes this season than he did in 66 games with the Wizards (721). . . .

The Toronto Raptors bought out center Alonzo Mourning's contract for $10 million yesterday, fueling speculation that the seven-time all-star will rejoin his former team, the Miami Heat, when he clears waivers Tuesday. Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan didn't seem to mind. "Bring them on. We can't wait to see Miami," Jordan said before snapping his finger. "Oh wait. We don't play them again."

The Heat beat the Wizards four times this season. "I don't want to see them in the playoffs, though," Jordan said.

-- Michael Lee


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