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In a Word, Hughes Is Huge for Wizards

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2004; Page D06

When Washington Wizards guard Larry Hughes was driving the baseline for a two-handed dunk in traffic, swooping under the basket for a gravity-defying reverse layup and hurling himself toward the rim to get fouled on Sunday, he said he didn't realize his team was trailing in the fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors.

"I didn't even know," said Hughes, whose 21-point fourth quarter points helped lift the Wizards to a 114-109 overtime victory. "I was just playing the game."

Larry Hughes is on pace to record career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists. The sixth-year guard also leads the NBA in steals per game. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)



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The Washington Wizards didn't practice yesterday, giving assistant coaches Mike O'Koren, Phil Hubbard and Tom Young an opportunity to visit Coach Eddie Jordan for the first time since he was hospitalized last week because of a blood clot in his left leg.

"Eddie is doing just fine," said O'Koren, who has assumed Jordan's duties. "I spent all morning with him at the hospital. He is doing great and just waiting for the doctor's okay. Everything seems to be going well."

Doctors informed the Wizards that Jordan would be released early this week and the team is anticipating that he will be on the sideline for tomorrow's home game against the New Jersey Nets.

Jordan and O'Koren watched film from the Wizards' 114-109 overtime win against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Asked if Jordan had already taught the Princeton offense to the nurses, O'Koren laughed and said, "He's driving them crazy up there." . . .

Center Brendan Haywood has averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds in back-to-back double-doubles. He has grabbed 35 rebounds in the past three games.

"He's starting to understand that he's a big boy and it's time to start using that big body he has," said forward Antawn Jamison, also Haywood's teammate at North Carolina. Haywood is averaging career highs with 10.7 points and 8.2 rebounds this season.

"I'm not just like, 'Well, I got my contract, I can quit playing,' " said Haywood, who signed a five-year, $25 million extension before the season. "Now that you got your money, it's time to build on that. There's two types of players -- there are guys that get their contracts and continue to excel, and guys that settle. I'm a guy who's going to continue to excel because I have a long way to go and I can continue to get better." . . .

After Larry Hughes, Gilbert Arenas and Haywood scored 75 of the Wizards' 114 points Sunday, Arenas boasted, "We have the best one-two-three combo in the league." He's right. With Jamison (23.6), Arenas (20.8), and Hughes (19.9), the Wizards have the highest scoring trio in the league, averaging 64.3 per game this season.

-- Michael Lee

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After recording his first career triple-double with 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Toronto, Hughes is on pace to average career highs in points (19.9), rebounds (6.5) and assists (4.9). He also leads the NBA in steals per game, with 2.82.

Hughes's greatest asset, perhaps, has been his ability to block out the distractions of the moment and just play -- whether it's 16,121 fans at Air Canada Centre trying to distract him at the foul line with 0.8 of a second left or whether he has shot poorly the first three quarters of a game. "I'm focused," he said.

In the past two games, Hughes went from a supporting role to a scene stealer in the clutch. He scored a combined 33 fourth-quarter points, shooting 10 of 14 (71 percent) from the field against Philadelphia and Toronto. In the first three quarters of those games, he scored a combined 14 points on 6-for-23 (26 percent) shooting.

"A lot of players, if it's not going for them, they shy away and say, 'Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next game,' " Wizards assistant coach Mike O'Koren said. "With Larry, if he misses 10, he'll feel the next 10 will go down."

Hughes, who will be a free agent after the season, has been playing some of the best basketball of his career this season -- with most of his offense coming in the fourth quarter, when he has scored 91 of his 219 points. He has scored at least 10 points in the fourth period four times this season, with the Wizards going 3-1 in those contests.

"It's not about how many points I score, it's about what I do on both ends, at the right time," Hughes said. "If the team needs something, I'm able to do something. And not just do something, but do it big."

Hughes has been able to dominate for a quarter or for just 15 seconds. That's all the time he needed to take over a 97-86 win in New Jersey on Nov. 20. The lowly Nets had closed to within two points in the fourth period and Hughes hit a three-pointer, then stole an inbounds pass to get a layup.

"Larry is a heck of player and people don't even realize he's so young," O'Koren said of Hughes, who will turn 26 in January. "He's been in the league six years and he has the ability to control the game, in his own way, on both ends of the floor. Whether it's a steal, a deflection, a blocked shot and then he can come down and carry you offensively."

Since going 3 of 12 for a season-low seven points in a 31-point loss in Cleveland, Hughes is averaging 23.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.8 steals and shooting 44 percent (46 of 104) in the past six games, with the Wizards (7-5) winning four of them. He has scored at least 20 points in each of those contests and has snagged at least 10 rebounds three times. "I'm trying to do other things besides score," Hughes said. "I'm trying to rebound and give my teammates the ball because we've got a lot of guys that can put it in the hole. I'm really trying to do everything."

His teammates have taken notice. "You always need a guy on your team who makes his teammates better, and Larry is doing that," said forward Antawn Jamison, who played with Hughes for 2 1/2 seasons at Golden State. "His game has really matured. He's not trying to force anything. He knows when to step up when you need him. He's a big part of why this team is successful this year."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company