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Hughes's Return Is Just What the Doctor Ordered

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page D04

Before Larry Hughes's return Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said he expected Hughes to play "like a shot out of a cannon." But a day after Hughes had 31 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals following a six-week hiatus, Jordan still was struggling to describe Hughes's performance, which helped spark a 101-98 comeback win. "It was almost impossible what he did -- unless you're M.J.," Jordan said, shaking his head. Then, as to not confuse those initials for a certain player who once wore the No. 23 for the Wizards and Chicago Bulls, Jordan clarified. "That's Montgomery Jordan," said a smiling Jordan, whose middle name is Montgomery.

Montgomery? Michael? It doesn't really matter. In his first game since breaking his right thumb on Jan. 15, Hughes had one of his best games this season, scoring at least 30 points for the sixth time and restoring some of the confidence that waned while the team went 9-11 in his absence. Not only did Hughes pick up where he left off, but so did the Wizards, who have won eight consecutive games with Hughes in the lineup. "He just brings that extra energy and leadership we needed," point guard Gilbert Arenas said afterward.

After missing six weeks with a broken right thumb, Larry Hughes returned to score 31 points Wednesday for the Wizards, who were 9-11 in his absence. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)

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Larry Hughes scores 31 points Washington's 101-98 victory over Houston.
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The Wizards (32-24) can possibly start a lineup with three 20-point scorers in Arenas, Hughes and Antawn Jamison and two 7-footers with Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood tonight against the Golden State Warriors. "I envision, not a starting lineup like that; I envision us having good depth, and we have that once we get everybody back healthy," Jordan said.

After starting 47 consecutive games, forward Jared Jeffries has missed the past two games with a bruised knee, but he practiced yesterday. Jeffries said he was "about 90 percent" and could be available tonight "if it doesn't swell up." Asked what his lineup would be if Jeffries was available, Jordan said: "I don't know yet. It's something to think about."

The increased depth comes at a perfect time for Jamison, who boosted his scoring and rebounding while Hughes was gone but is beginning to show some physical wear from playing many minutes as an undersized 6-9 power forward this season. In the past eight games, Jamison has shot just 38 percent (53 of 139).

Jamison leads the Wizards in total minutes played (2,217) and is one of just two Wizards (Michael Ruffin is the other) to play in all 56 games, extending his league-leading consecutive games played streak to 384. Jamison doesn't like to discuss injuries but he admitted that he is somewhat banged up. "It's not anything new," Jamison said. "It's that time of the year when you might need a break every once in a while but I'm still able to perform to the best of my abilities, to the point where I'm really helping my team and not hurting my team. I don't feel any pain other than waking up sore. I can play through pain."

Jamison said having Brown in the starting lineup has relieved him from battling so much down low. Brown has had 10 and 12 rebounds, respectively, in the past two games at power forward. "He's down there banging and rebounding. I can relax a little bit," Jamison said. "Physically, I'm at a point where it doesn't affect me at all, but mentally it gets to you sometimes. It's refreshing to have Larry come back at this stage, because mentally it takes a lot of pressure off myself. A lot of teams have been concentrating on me and Gilbert. Teams don't know what to do now."

Hughes said being away from the game helped him get down the mental aspects better. "The game was slow for me," Hughes said. "I've watched so much and I see how to change the game. I kind of took my time." Hughes displayed that mental edge after the Wizards overcame an eight-point deficit with 5 minutes 54 seconds left Wednesday. Jamison, Arenas and Hughes combined to outscore the Rockets 14-2 over the next three minutes to take the lead for good.

"It was like the old Wizards, when we used to come back in the fourth quarter," Jordan said. "But you've got to have firepower. You've got to have a veteran guy like Larry who can do so many things on both ends of the floor."

And so quickly.

"I don't think it's a fluke," Jordan said of Hughes's game. "We'd like for him to maintain that level."

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