- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Washington Wizards point guard Larry Hughes, who lost his starting job to Tyronn Lue shortly after the All-Star break, has won the job back.

"We're going to go with Larry, probably for the rest of the season," Wizards coach Doug Collins said yesterday. "But they're both going to get minutes. We're not going to get into a big thing at this time of the year about who is starting and who is coming off the bench."

Hughes was the starter for most of the season until he suffered an ankle injury that forced him out of the last two games before the All-Star Game. When he returned to the lineup about one week sooner than expected, he found himself coming off the bench behind Lue.

However, Lue suffered a separated shoulder in late February that eventually sidelined him for six games and, at one time, forced the Wizards to play without both Lue and Hughes.

Now that the two are relatively healthy Lue's shoulder still bothers him but is of no major concern Hughes, the top point guard the last six games, is the starter.

Rather than create any more controversy on a team that has hit more than its share of speed bumps in recent weeks, both players talked of making the most of the time they get, starting with tonight's crucial game against Detroit, instead of complaining about who starts.

"To be honest with you, I really haven't thought about it much," said Lue, who has made 11 starts this season. "I mean, that's not what I'm concerned about. I'm concerned about winning some basketball games and getting into the playoffs. That's the most important thing to all of us here."

Hughes agreed.

"When I went to the bench I was disappointed," he said. "But you really can't look at that too hard. There is a lot at stake for us right now. We've lost some games that we shouldn't have lost. But we're still right there in the hunt for the playoffs. To be too concerned with that, to get all hung up in it would be a waste of everyone's time here."

And time is precious for the Wizards.

Despite having lost five of their last eight games, the Wizards (32-34) moved up to the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot thanks to back-to-back losses by the Milwaukee Bucks (32-35).

However after tonight's game, the Wizards, who have won just nine road games all season, play their next six games and 11 of their final 15 on the road.

"We've got to start playing with a swagger and it has to start now," said Jerry Stackhouse, the Wizards' leading scorer. "We've got a first-place team coming in here. If you beat that team and then go out on the road, I think that could do some things for us.

"This game is all about confidence and when we've been able to play with confidence on the road, the few games that we've won, we've had confidence. But lately when we've been going on the road we haven't had a great deal of confidence."

In recent games, Stackhouse has looked very much like a player on top of his game, something the Wizards hope will continue the rest of the way. In the team's last three games, two of them victories, Stackhouse has averaged almost 31 points. And he has been on tear at the free throw line, making 39 of 42 during that stretch.

"I think Jerry's taken his game up a notch for us," Collins said. "He's getting to the line, getting into the offense early, getting his teammates involved. I think the guys feed off of that."

Tonight Washington will get a stiff challenge from the Pistons (41-24) and their All-Star forward, former Wizard Ben Wallace. Wallace leads the league in rebounding (15.0) and is third in blocked shots (2.9).

In Detroit's 90-80 victory over the Wizards last week, Wallace was a disruptive force, finishing with season highs in both rebounds (24) and points (17).

Stackhouse, a former Piston, said the 6-foot-9 Wallace is unique in that he moves out on the floor like a guard at the defensive end, where other big men simply can't match his quickness.

The 6-6 Stackhouse said he wouldn't mind getting a shot at defending Wallace.

"I'd like to guard him," Stackhouse joked. "I mentioned it to Doug. I told him that I'd keep him off the boards and wouldn't let him get 20. I'm happy for his success. I just don't want him to go out and have a big night against us like he did last week."

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