- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

MINNEAPOLIS — The words sound strange rolling off Larry Hughes’ lips as he talks about his old team in Washington. Hughes, a Wizards guard for the last three seasons, describes ex-teammates like Jared Jeffries, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison as “those guys” and “they.”

It is a clear sign that Hughes, who now makes his living playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland, has moved on.

But that hasn’t kept Hughes, who signed a five-year, $65-70 million deal with the Cavaliers, from keeping a close eye on his old teammates.

And he thinks his old team is headed in the right direction, right back to the playoffs next spring.

“I think they are,” Hughes said when asked whether the Wizards, who play at Minnesota tonight, are a playoff team. “They went last year, and they know what it takes. The Eastern Conference has gotten better. But they know they can’t lose games early. I think that experience from last year is going to help them.

“And you know what?” Hughes continued. “I still root for those guys.”

The Wizards (5-2), who make their national television debut on TNT tonight, got a little comeuppance from Hughes. In back-to-back wins over the Seattle SuperSonics and the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Wizards guard Antonio Daniels, who played for both teams, was calling out their offensive sets, transforming himself into a veritable human cheat sheet.

On Tuesday at Quickens Loan Arena, Hughes filled an identical role, and the knowledge paid huge dividends for the Cavaliers (6-2), who have won five straight.

“Yeah, I was calling out their plays,” said a smiling Hughes, who helped hold Arenas to 18 points, 10 below his average, and forced him into an awful shooting night (4-for-17). “I was calling out their plays, kind of snitching a little bit, letting my guys know what they like to do. But that’s my job now on the other side.”

Hughes scored 12 of his 22 points in the decisive fourth quarter as the Cavaliers posted the most points against the Wizards this season in a convincing 114-99 victory.

He also finished with a season-high eight assists and five rebounds. His effort came after a clutch performance in a 108-100 victory over Orlando in which Hughes went for 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Mike Brown, formerly an assistant with the Wizards under Bernie Bickerstaff, is in his first year as Cleveland’s coach. Brown said James, who torched the Wizards for a season-high 37 points along with 10 rebounds and four assists, is making his job considerably easier.

So is Hughes, Brown said.

“He’s becoming a leader on the team through his actions and his play; he’s a great addition so far,” Brown said.

In the meantime, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wants to see his team react better when teams try to smother Arenas the way Cleveland did. Going into their first meeting of the season against the Cavaliers, Arenas had scored 75 points in his previous two contests and had earned Eastern Conference player of the week honors.

“After Gilbert’s weekend in D.C. and Antawn really scoring, teams are going to start loading up on Gilbert and will try and take some things away from both him and Antawn,” Jordan said. “We need our other guys to take advantage of those scoring opportunities and not to sit and rely on Gilbert and Antawn.”

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