- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

Eighty-seven seconds apart in last night's first quarter, Kwame Brown and Larry Hughes arose from the Washington Wizards' bench. They were thought to be prospective starters in coach Doug Collins' lineup but for the first preseason game, they were reserves.
No matter from there, Brown and Hughes were nothing short of stellar, combining for 33 points and four steals and helping to anchor the Wizards' outstanding defense in a 99-84 defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers at MCI Center.
Hughes looked very comfortable in his first action in a Wizards uniform, contributing 13 points, five rebounds and three steals. With his 20-point, five-rebound performance, Brown displayed an aggressiveness and tenacity seen only rarely last season.
"A lot can happen in a year. That's the difference a year makes," Brown said. "I learned a little bit and I have a lot of work to do I have to work on my free throws and on rotating over a little faster [on defense]. What I have to do is be consistent. I can't leave it out there for one game."
As a team, the Wizards turned in an outstanding defensive performance, causing 24 Philadelphia turnovers and recording 30 pass deflections a statistic kept by Wizards' coaches. Rookie Juan Dixon, a former Maryland star who was showered with cheers all evening from a crowd announced as 15,805, scored 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting. As expected, Michael Jordan did not play.
Though it was just the preseason, it was fitting that Hughes played well against the 76ers the team that made him a lottery pick in 1998 and with which he considered signing this summer as a free agent. Hughes' former team was led by 25 points from Allen Iverson, who played despite sustaining a fractured right middle finger Friday.
Tyronn Lue started at the point and rookie Jared Jeffries at power forward. Chris Whitney did not play at all, held out by Collins to allow more players to get minutes at the point. But, Collins warned, "don't read how [Whitneys not starting] fits into everything."
To start the second quarter, Hughes made a steal in the backcourt and fed Brown for a dunk. A minute and a half later, he made a layup off a dribble drive. On the next possession, Hughes canned a 3-pointer from near the top of the key a reassuring sign from Hughes, who has struggled with his jumper at times during his four-year career. He drilled another 3-pointer in the third quarter.
"I'm there to play any position handle the ball, off the ball," Hughes said. "Whatever works best for our team, whatever way we can go out there and play like we did tonight."
Hughes showed the versatility that Collins needs from his guards considering the number of them likely to make the team. When Hughes first entered, he played at shooting guard with Lue at the point and Jerry Stackhouse at small forward.
Later, he stayed at shooting guard with Dixon at the point and Bobby Simmons at small forward. And Hughes also having experience at point guard makes him all that more valuable to Collins. He finished the first half with nine points after making all four of his field goal attempts and adding three assists and two steals in 13 minutes.
Nearly as impressive was Brown, who appeared to have shed the hesitancy he showed last season.
Brown made a statement right away with a thunderous block of Todd MacCulloch, then the 20-year-old ran the floor with ease and attacked the basket with authority the rest of way. He also maintained an imposing defensive presence throughout the night.
"That's the Kwame we want to love every night," Collins said. "Now I just don't want him to take a step backward, I want him to get greedy and be better."
The performances by Brown and Hughes helped carry the Wizards to a 57-43 lead after a half in which they shot 59 percent, including 13-for-19 in the second quarter.
Notes Collins commented about the Wizards' interest in free agent forward Charles Oakley before the game, saying, "We're talking to Oak, he's talking to a lot of teams, so there's nothing etched in stone with him at this point in time. We'd very much like to add some more toughness to our team. If he wants to do that, then we'd love to be able to have him. We'll have to wait and see."
Etan Thomas, who didn't play last night and missed much of training camp because of a sore hamstring, was cleared to practice by team doctor Stephen Haas. Rod Grizzard was healthy but did not see action.


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