WASHINGTON - Last night was shaping up to be a very bad one for the Washington Wizards. Already toting a four-game losing streak, the Wizards were welcoming to MCI Center the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that had beaten them six straight times.
To literally add injury to insult, the Wizards placed point guard Gilbert Arenas on the injured list with a relapse of a strained abdominal muscle, leaving a team that already shoots poorly without a valuable offensive weapon.
Up stepped Larry Hughes to rescue the Wizards, and deliver a 94-87 win over the 76ers with a season-high 43 points, one short of his career high.
Hughes, who was originally drafted by the 76ers in 1998 as the eighth overall pick, torched his former team, hitting 17 of 29 shots.
"I felt good. I've been working on my shot, trying to get a rhythm," said Hughes. "I had a 5-for-23 [in a home loss to Milwaukee] that I wanted to get off my back. That kind of hurt me, and I wanted to come back and have a good show."
Hughes, who had a career-high with 28 points in the first half, was brilliant on a night when he had to be, hitting big shot after big shot, giving Washington (10-25) its first win in 10 tries against Atlantic Division opponents.
"That was a great night for him," said point guard Brevin Knight, who got the start in place of Arenas. "When we needed something to happen, we went to him. That's what he is for us. He's a star, a guy that can fill it up. He needs for us to get him in the right position so he can do that. [Last night], he just showed us that ability."
Hughes spearheaded the defensive effort on Allen Iverson, the NBA's leading scorer. Iverson had 15 points - almost 13 below his 27.5 season average - and hit only seven of 21 shots.
"I just play him to be within arm's reach, to get a hand up on his shots, contest things and try to keep him out of his lane, as much as possible," said Hughes. "We pretty much boxed him in and tried to make him make passes to the guys in the low post."
The Wizards led by as many as 14 in the second half, but had to hold on down the stretch, as the Sixers got to within four in the fourth quarter, and nearly cut the lead to one when Glenn Robinson's three-pointer rimmed out with less than two minutes to go.
"Sometimes, with this team, you don't know what makes them tick and what makes them unwind and fall apart," said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. "I just don't know. There were turnovers. There were missed assignments against the pressure, but we just survived a tough team because we had confidence, toughness and leadership."
Arenas, who was averaging 18.2 points, had been on the injured list twice before with the same injury, which he initially suffered Nov. 23 in a loss at Seattle.
Arenas missed eight games before attempting a comeback Dec. 12 against Minnesota. He scored nine points in 24 minutes and looked to be out of sorts. He went back on the injured list after that game and missed six more contests, before returning against Atlanta on Dec. 30. He was six games in to his second return, and he had 13 points on 5-for-17 shooting in Friday's 103-92 loss at Orlando.
However, Jordan said before the game that Arenas had suffered a setback. The coach initially said Arenas' appearance would be a game-time decision, but just before tip off, the team announced that he was going back on the injured list, for at least three to six weeks.
Kwame Brown had 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for Washington. Robinson had 22 points for Philadelphia.
Next for Wizards
Opponent: Houston Rockets
Site: MCI Center, Washington
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)