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Thursday, January 13, 2005; Page D09

Who's Next?

at Milwaukee

Tomorrow, 8:30

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Before becoming coach of the Portland Trail Blazers in 2001, Maurice Cheeks served as an assistant for seven seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, where one of his projects was to work with guards Larry Hughes and Allen Iverson. Cheeks said he was pleased to see the growth in Hughes, who is putting together a career season in Washington.

"This guy has grown and he listens," Cheeks said. "A lot of young guys walk around talking. He never was like that. That's what made him the player he is today. He didn't just stay stagnant. You can be a young player with ability and not make strides, but he obviously has made strides in putting his game together."

Cheeks retired from the NBA in 1993 as the all-time leader in steals with 2,310 and said he isn't surprised to see that Hughes is leading the league in steals this season. "The anticipation. He has that," he said. "He's long. I've watched a few tapes and he's got the stance, he's down. And he wants to play defense. A lot of times, you have offensive players who don't care about defense."

Hughes, who spent 1 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia said he always respected Cheeks and even owns a Cheeks 76ers throwback jersey. . . .

Trail Blazers General Manager John Nash, who served in the same role with the Washington Bullets from 1990 to '96, said yesterday that it appears that the tide has shifted for the Wizards.

"For many, many years, the franchise didn't have any luck whatsoever," he said. "Something good happened, something bad would happen right after it. We acquired Chris Webber, for example, in the '94-95 season and he dislocated his shoulder and missed most of that season. He dislocated it again and missed most of the next season. When I left here in '96, there were some good players here, Rasheed Wallace, Webber, [ Juwan] Howard, [ Gheorghe] Muresan, [ Jim] McIlvaine, Calbert Cheaney, but for whatever reason it didn't work. It's nice to see it coming together now." . . .

The Wizards activated forward-center Etan Thomas (abdominal strain) yesterday and placed forward-center Kwame Brown on the injured list with right ankle tendinitis. Brown missed the first 12 games of the season with a broken bone in his right foot and played 14 of 20 games before getting injured again. Brown is averaging 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds this season and will miss at least five games. "It just makes sense. We've got four games in five days," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It pretty much is going to be the right timetable."

-- Michael Lee

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