Wizards defeat Jazz, stop skid

Hughes' 38 help team end four-game slide, 91-87, rebound from loss in N.Y.

December 17, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Larry Hughes' 38-point performance - with 20 coming in the final quarter - loomed large in the Washington Wizards' 91-87 victory over the Utah Jazz last night at MCI Center, ending a four-game losing streak.

But lessons learned from the Wizards' setback in New York two days earlier might have played the most prominent role.

That was the game in which the Wizards fell apart while losing a 13-point lead, with no one able to make big plays on the offensive end to replace injured Gilbert Arenas, and with nobody able to stop Allan Houston from scoring 39 points.

Washington coach Eddie Jordan criticized the calls that ran against his team Sunday, which led to the primary lesson of that loss - the benefit of the doubt runs toward the better team when it comes to close calls.

To that end, Washington (8-16) probably couldn't wait for the return of its stars, Arenas and Jerry Stackhouse, if it wanted to be competitive.

Given the chance to assert themselves as go-to performers, players like Hughes, Jared Jeffries and Jarvis Hayes failed to capitalize in New York, a situation the Wizards wanted to reverse last night.

"That's part of growth; that's something a lot of these guys haven't been a part of in the past few years," Jordan said. "Now is the time to do it, time for them to learn how to do it."

For one night, at least, Washington got it right - getting key contributions from the star-variety players and from the supporting cast as well.

First things first. Hughes seemed like he would slow down a little bit, after scoring 13 over the first 15 minutes of the game. And it was during a lull that the Jazz (13-11) seemed to take control of the game.

Coming back from as far as 14 points down, Utah took its first lead since early in the first quarter when Greg Ostertag made two free throws to put the Jazz up 56-55 with 5:53 left in the third quarter.

The Utah lead lasted until early in the fourth quarter, when Hughes dominated, scoring his team's first 13 points and making 11 of 12 free-throw attempts and 14 of 16 overall.

Last night's outburst isn't out of character for Hughes, who had a career-high 44 points three years ago.

"I've always been able to score, so that's not a problem," Hughes said. "It's just a matter of knowing when to go and when not to go, being patient."

Said the Wizards' Brevin Knight: "In this game, you need someone like that, a guy you can go to who can make something happen. Right now, Larry's doing that."

But it wasn't just Hughes who carried the Wizards.

Etan Thomas made a pivotal block on Andrei Kirilenko's lay-in attempt with the Jazz attempting to tie the game at 89 and less than 30 seconds remaining. The block led to a Utah foul and two final free throws for Hughes.

The heretofore underachieving Brendan Haywood, whose recent performance forced Thomas into the starting lineup, jump-started Washington in the third quarter, when the team appeared to fade after building a 37-23 lead in the second quarter.

Haywood had eight points in 13 minutes, and it was his hook shot with 5:33 left in the game that put the Wizards up for good.

"I just tried to come in and play to the best of my abilities," said Haywood, who had discussed his playing time with Jordan recently. "I said that I'd like to play more, and he said that I have to go out and produce more. Maybe this will get me on my way."

Next for Wizards

Opponent: New Jersey Nets

Site: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: CN8, Ch. 50/WTEM (980 AM)

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