- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

The Washington Wizards, owners of the NBA’s longest current winning streak and easily the surprise story of the Eastern Conference, were dealt a blow yesterday with the news guard Larry Hughes will miss four-to-six weeks with a fractured right thumb.

Hughes, the Wizards’ second-leading scorer and a potential All-Star, was injured in Saturday’s 108-103 win against Phoenix.

“I’m very disappointed this happened, but I have full confidence that my teammates will play well while I’m out,” Hughes said in a statement last night. “I’m looking forward to getting back as soon as possible.”

It is a significant loss for the Wizards (22-13), winners of seven straight games and off to their best start in 20 seasons. Washington was tied with Cleveland for the second-best record in the conference through Saturday.

Hughes, who will be a free agent this summer, clearly is having the best season of his six-year career. He is averaging career highs in points (21.2), rebounds (6.1) and assists (5.3) and leads the league in steals with 2.82 a game.

Hughes missed 21 games last season because of various injuries, the majority because of a fractured left wrist.

“It was a shock,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s unfortunate for a guy like that because he has been a key for us. We just have to step up. Everybody has to come in and be ready. What he gave us as much as anyone was leadership and professionalism. During the winning stretch he is the one that is talking and getting us going.”

Hughes, along with leading scorer Gilbert Arenas (23.2), has played a primary role in the Wizards’ strong start this season. The duo forms the highest scoring backcourt in the league (44.4). Add in Antawn Jamison (20.3) and they were on pace to become the first trio to average at least 20 points a game since Golden State’s Tim Hardaway (22.9), Mitch Richmond (23.9) and Chris Mullin (25.7) in 1990-91.

“Everybody has to step up; Juan [Dixon], Laron [Profit], [Anthony Peeler],” Arenas said last night from his hotel room in San Antonio, where the Wizards play the Spurs tonight. “Antawn, myself, we all have to do a better job. I know that I have to be more of a leader.

“It’s a shame. Just when everything is going our way something happens. But it’s one of those tests. It’s a roadblock that we have to plow through.”

Jordan said last night he was uncertain who will start for the Wizards at the other guard position, but it likely either will be Dixon, who scored 26 points off the bench against Phoenix, or Profit, who was not in the league last season. Peeler has a gimpy Achilles’ and probably is not ready to play big minutes.

Hughes was injured late in the win against the Suns while attacking the basket against burly swingman Quentin Richardson, who swatted at the ball and struck Hughes on the thumb. Hughes shook his thumb, which originally was believed to be just jammed, as he left the court.

During the timeout, Jordan asked Hughes whether he could go back in the game, and Hughes, still clearly in pain, said yes.

Hughes received X-rays after Saturday’s game and was evaluated further yesterday morning.

“We know we are going to have to play a certain amount of time without him,” Jordan said. “Larry and Gil were playing so well together. The key is that it’s not about getting another guy out there. It’s about getting a guy in there who will show us leadership and complement Gilbert.”

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