- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

MILWAUKEE — There are times when a basketball game comes down to a player making up his mind that he is simply not going to let his team lose.

Last night was one of those nights for Larry Hughes.

In his best performance since the Wizards signed him in the summer of 2002, Hughes scored 36 points — his most ever as a Wizard — as Washington put on its best team offensive show to defeat Milwaukee 114-109 in overtime at Bradley Center.

The win ended the Wizards’ four-game losing streak and a nine-game streak at Bradley Center.

Hughes, who fouled out in overtime, scored 23 points after the third quarter — including eight in overtime — and was virtually unstoppable down the stretch.

“I was locked in,” he said. “I was catching the ball where I wanted to catch it and taking what they gave me. Sometimes the lane opened up and I was able to drive, other times they were late coming out. I was locked in to take advantage of everything they gave me.”

It was a performance that Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said he actually enjoyed watching. And the fact that the Wizards got a win out of it made it more enjoyable.

“That’s what the NBA is about,” Jordan said. “The star player steps up and he’s tired of losing. And he did it the right way. He let the game come to him. And when it was time, he saw his time and his space on the floor, he felt it and he just kept it going. That’s what good players do.”

Hughes’ performance overshadowed the wholesale changes Jordan made in the starting lineup.

One night after his starters went 8-for-40 from the field against Memphis, Jordan made wholesale changes. For one night at least, out of the lineup went Kwame Brown, Brendan Haywood and Chris Whitney.

In their place, Jordan inserted Christian Laettner, Etan Thomas and rookie Steve Blake, who made the first start of his career.

Rather than sulking, Brown played his best game of the season. He scored a season-high 18 points, and none was more crucial than his tip-in dunk at the end of regulation that sent the game into overtime.

“We got some easy buckets, and usually we don’t get easy buckets,” noted Brown, who said he was especially happy to have Blake in the lineup. “This feels good. Winning the game is more important, and God knows we needed to win this game.”

Laettner and Jarvis Hayes both finished with 11 points for the Wizards. Blake had seven points and five assists. Juan Dixon added nine points and five assists, and Haywood finished with eight points. The balanced scoring enabled the Wizards to win despite making just 23 of 38 free throws.

Michael Redd led the Bucks (9-11) with 28 points. Desmond Mason finished with 19, despite making just seven of 17 free throws.

The Wizards led by as many as 15 points in the first half, executing well enough on the offensive end to hit 51.4 percent and playing stingy defense that forced the Bucks to shoot just under 38 percent.

But the Bucks steadily chipped away at that lead, and when Redd scored with 4:37 left in the game, the Bucks led for the first time since the opening quarter 86-85.

Fouled with under one minute left, Hughes tied the game at 94-94. But he was then called for a questionable foul that resulted in two free throws by Redd with 46.1 seconds left.

On the Wizards’ next possession, the Bucks’ backup center swatted away a driving layup attempt by Dixon. This led to two more free throws by Redd throws and a 98-94 lead. Hughes cut it to two points with a slashing layup and, with regulation expiring, Brown’s tip-in following a shot clock violation by the Bucks sent the game into overtime.

Hughes opened the scoring in overtime with a layup and a 21-footer on the Wizards’ first two possessions, and they never trailed again.

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