- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Larry Hughes has become the guy the injury-depleted Wizards look to in crucial moments this season. Sometimes the results have been good, other times they haven’t.

Last night they couldn’t have been better.

Hughes scored a season-high 38 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards ended a four-game losing streak with a 91-87 victory over the Utah Jazz at MCI Center.

The smallest home crowd (12,097) since the Wizards (8-16) drew 11,668 against Cleveland on April15, 2001, watched mostly in awe as Hughes put on a late show. His 20 points in the fourth quarter matched the Jazz’s entire output for the period.

Whether they knew it, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan and his staff motivated Hughes by telling his team earlier in the day how good Utah (13-11) was.

“Our coaches were talking about how good those guys were, this and that, and it kind of got me going a little bit,” Hughes said. “They’re coming into our place. They’re a good team, but we don’t want to hear that.

“Coach told me to be aggressive. He wanted me to let things happen. All I can say is I got going.”

The victory against a team near the bottom of the Midwest Division that nevertheless would sit atop the mediocre Atlantic was, for this night, a balm for the Wizards and their fans.

Before last night’s victory, the Wizards had lost eight of their last nine games and were losers of 14 of their last 18.

“I’d almost forgotten how that felt,” a relieved Jordan said. “It feels good.”

In an effort to lift his team’s spirits, team owner Abe Pollin stopped by during the team’s shootaround and tried to lend an inspirational voice.

Jordan said Pollin told the team about one of his former coaches, who related a story to his struggling team.

“The coach says, ‘You know, you have to play hard in this league to even lose. And you have to play harder to win.’ He told us that he has a lot of confidence in us,” Jordan said. “We have to go through the growing pains. He said he really trusts us, he said he’s behind us, and he has a lot of confidence in us.”

The Wizards came out looking like a team that trusted each other.

With the score tied 16-16 late in the first quarter, the Wizards opened up a 37-23 lead with 9:32 left in the first half.

But the Wizards made just seven of 23 shots in the third quarter. Utah, meanwhile, used a 22-9 run to start the period to go ahead 61-57.

Down by four points at the start of the fourth, Hughes scored the Wizards’ first 13 points of quarter.

Brendan Haywood (eight points, four rebounds) put the Wizards ahead for good when he knocked down a hook shot with 5:33 left.

Hughes put the game away for good when, after a block by Etan Thomas (six points, eight rebounds) on Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko (17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks), he sank a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds to play to give the Wizards a 91-87 lead.

“Larry made the plays throughout the game and down the stretch,” Jordan said of Hughes, who was 4-for-5 from the field and 11 of 12 from the line in the fourth quarter. “He just played a solid game.”

For the game, Hughes was 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point line, but he didn’t win this game without help. Jared Jeffries had another strong performance, finishing with his first double-double (11 points, career-high 11 rebounds) of the season.

Struggling Jarvis Hayes added 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting, and he connected on both of his 3-point attempts. Steve Blake handed out a team-high five assists, and Haywood, who didn’t play at all in the first half, scored six points in the third quarter to help the Wizards stay close.

For Utah, Matt Harpring finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and point guard Carlos Arroyo had 15 points and a game-high nine assists. Raja Bell came off the bench to score 15 points.

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