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Hughes Hits End Note Against Jazz

Late Jumper Seals Wizards' Road Win: Wizards 85, Jazz 84

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page D01

SALT LAKE CITY, March 24 -- Even after he hit the decisive basket during the Washington Wizards' 85-84 win against the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, and even after he lost the ball with seven seconds remaining and gasped for breath as Jazz guard Keith McLeod's running layup bounded off the rim as the game ended, guard Larry Hughes said he didn't think that the Wizards "squeaked by."

"I thought we were in control," Hughes said.

Jazz center Ben Handlogten fouls Brendan Haywood in the first quarter. The Wizards escape Utah with an 85-84 victory Thursday. (Douglas C. Pizac - AP)

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SALT LAKE CITY, March 24 -- Despite guard Larry Hughes's complaints following the Wizards' 127-98 loss Tuesday in Denver, Coach Eddie Jordan reiterated his intent to get the ball into the post during the morning shoot-around Thursday. Jordan said Hughes had not expressed his concerns to him, but addressed the issue with the team. "We reaffirmed what we believe in and the way we're going to play and that's all that needs to be said," Jordan said. "Coaches coach and players play. It's pretty much a democratic society around here. I listen to [the players] and the final decision is mine. So, we'll play the way I feel is best for us to play."

Hughes said the team has abandoned its wide-open style of play in the first half of the season and that the emphasis on low post play isn't working. Jordan said that incorporating forwards Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas into the offense in recent weeks has been "an adjustment. We always said that from the time they were injured to the time they were expected to come back. We just have to adjust. We're utilizing our talents the best we can." . . .

Guard Juan Dixon missed his sixth game in seven contests with a sprained right ankle. Dixon was injured in the second quarter against Houston on Feb. 15 and has attempted to play in just three games since the all-star break, going scoreless in each game. He also has been dealing with tendinitis and a bone bruise in his foot. . . .

Forward Antawn Jamison is eligible to come off the injured list on Sunday against Seattle. Jordan said he didn't know when Jamison would return, but the all-star forward likely will not play on this Western Conference trip. "Is he the glue? He's one of our captains and he's one of our leaders. Certainly, we miss his skills on the floor and his leadership on the floor. But we have his leadership in the locker room," Jordan said. "I wouldn't say that he's the glue and things are falling apart now that he's not here."

-- Michael Lee

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That's what a win will do for a team's confidence. Hughes scored 25 points with nine rebounds and four steals and hit a 21-foot jumper with 46 seconds left as the Wizards (37-29) won at Delta Center for the first time since Nov. 3, 1997. But in those final seconds, Hughes drove left and stopped near the foul line as McLeod stripped the ball. Hughes stood in shock briefly, then he quickly raced back as point guard Gilbert Arenas forced McLeod into a more difficult shot.

As the horn sound, Hughes lifted his hand, but it was a muted celebration.

"It wasn't pretty, but it was effective," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said after his team beat the Jazz by one point for the second time in five days. The Wizards won, 96-95, Saturday at MCI Center as Arenas hit two free throws with 2.3 seconds left.

Thursday night's win gave the Wizards a two-game lead over Cleveland for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference and pushed them to 1-1 on this five-game Western Conference trip. Although it didn't completely erase the memory of the embarrassing 127-98 loss Tuesday in Denver, forward Kwame Brown doesn't think that it should. "I think we should remember that Denver game; remember that feeling and never want to feel it again," said Brown, who had 11 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. "This was a tough game. We still almost lost."

The Wizards led, 60-51, in the third quarter, but the Jazz rallied to a take a 78-76 lead when reserve point guard Howard Eisley hit a three-pointer with 6 minutes 35 seconds remaining. The Wizards took an 83-82 lead when Brown hit two free throws, but Jazz guard Gordon Giricek hit a running jumper with 1:05 left to take the lead, setting up Hughes's decisive jumper.

"Right now, we have to grind every possession. We got to come out and play every game like it's our last," Arenas said after scoring a game-high 29 points. "If we come out of here 4-1 that would be great, because no one is expecting it."

After the loss in Denver, Hughes expressed his displeasure with Jordan's push to incorporate a low post offense with Brown and Etan Thomas returning to health, and perimeter scores Antawn Jamison, Jarvis Hayes, Juan Dixon and Anthony Peeler out with injuries. Hughes said he wanted the Wizards to get out, run, and play the style of basketball that led to much of the team's early season success.

"I said what I had to say," Hughes said. "I don't say much, but the style that I want to get back to is the style that was helping us win. Regardless of how I was playing or how many points I was scoring, I was just worried about putting the Ws on the board and that's really what it's about . . . I felt like we weren't attacking. We were attacking tonight."

Arenas started the game with a driving layup, then Hughes followed with a jumper. Arenas hit a jumper, then Hughes followed with a dunk as they scored the Wizards' first eight points. Arenas and Hughes combined to take 44 of the Wizards' 66 shots last night. "Coach is letting the guards control the game and the bigs are getting a sniff here and there," said Arenas, who had six of the Wizards' 13 assists.

Forward Matt Harpring had 18 points for the Jazz (21-47), which lost for the 10th time in 11 games. The Jazz also lost its best player when Andrei Kirilenko fractured his left wrist in the first quarter. Kirilenko, who scored a game-high 27 points in the last meeting, injured himself with 10:06 remaining in the first quarter, when he picked up an offensive foul for driving into Brown and landed awkwardly as Brown moved out of his way. "That definitely was a blow to them," Brown said. "It definitely wasn't any malice on my part. I'm sorry that it happened."

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