Wizards' Hughes comes to the rescue in win against Rockets, 101-98

Guard makes return from thumb injury, revitalizes Washington

Pro Basketball

March 03, 2005|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards had lost five of six games. They had not broken 100 points in seven of their past eight. After a promising start to the season, they seemed a little lost.

Then Larry Hughes returned and helped remind them who they were and where they could be going.

Hughes, playing for the first time since breaking his right thumb against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 15, scored 31 points last night and ignited a decisive fourth-quarter run as the Wizards defeated the Houston Rockets, 101-98.

It wasn't easy. Washington blew a 17 point lead in the third quarter and then needed to come back against a Houston team that had rallied despite a subpar performance by Yao Ming, who was on the bench at key moments with foul trouble and finished with 11 points.

Hughes missed three of his first four shots. But he energized the crowd - and his team - by relentlessly pushing the ball upcourt, helping the Wizards to a 22-13 advantage in fast-break points.

In the fourth quarter, with Washington trailing 89-88, Hughes made two free throws and then hit a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 93-91 lead with 3:15 left. He drove the lane on Washington's next possession and dished to Brendan Haywood, who scored to make it 95-91.

The Rockets hung around and took the ball trailing by 101-98 with six seconds remaining. But Tracy McGrady, who led the Rockets with 26 points, was long on a three-pointer before the buzzer sounded.

"I thought it was in," McGrady said. "It felt good coming off my hand."

Washington coach Eddie Jordan, who has seen Hughes' heroics before, said he was most impressed by the guard's stamina.

"I didn't think his shot was going to be there, especially so late in the game. That was above and beyond the call of duty. That's a classic," Jordan said.

Hughes had seemed to show foresight by pulling himself out of the game for a breather in the first quarter.

"He was smart enough to tell me when he was tired early in the game, and then he carried a lot of minutes late," Jordan said.

Said Hughes: "In the second half, I was able to catch my second wind. I've been telling people in the organization and my teammates that I planned on coming back better than in the first half of the season."

Hughes' return couldn't have come at a better time. The Wizards were without Jarvis Hayes, Jared Jeffries and Juan Dixon because of injuries. They were 9-11 without Hughes.

Hughes was activated last week but sat out until last night.

"I waited until it was time. I didn't want to go out there holding my hand back," he said.

Hughes said the break is completely healed, but that he has lost a little flexibility.

"The only thing I'm lacking is the motion of taking my thumb all the way down to where it was," he said.

It was easy to see why the Wizards perked up with Hughes' return. Entering the game he was averaging 21.2 points and 5.3 assists per game. The Wizards had won seven straight games with him in the lineup before the injury.

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