- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

LOS ANGELES Washington Wizards point guard Tyronn Lue is carrying a burden but not just one that comes with trying to guide his team to the playoffs.

It's much heavier.

A little more than a week ago, right before the Wizards embarked on a Western trip on which they have split four games and regained the final Eastern Conference playoff spot Lue's mother called him from his hometown of Mexico, Mo., to inform him that her 63-year-old father, Tyrone George, was on life support.

"It crushed me at first," Lue said. "He is my best friend. He raised me."

His grandfather is on life support as a result of the cancer what kind, Lue is unsure that is ravaging his body. Although he is conscious, George remains hospitalized. And that is why Lue who was reinserted as the starting point guard in the Wizards' 95-91 victory over Portland on Tuesday and played a huge role in the team's 80-74 victory at Seattle on Wednesday remains undaunted under the grind of a playoff run.

However, it has not been easy.

"It was hard for me to focus at first, having to try to hold it all in," Lue said. "But I've talked to Bobby [Simmons] and a lot of guys about it and they've been there to support me. At first, I wasn't able to sleep at night because of what was going on. I kept waking up at night. But once I started to open up and tell everyone about it and saw how supportive they've been of me, it's been a lot easier for me to deal with."

Lue's skillful orchestration of the Wizards' offense has made it a lot easier for the team to remain in the hunt for the playoffs, and what he brings to the team was on display throughout the Wizards' win in Seattle.

When coach Doug Collins removed Lue late in the second quarter, the SuperSonics closed the half on a 13-2 run that gave them a 44-42 lead.

And late in the game, Lue nailed a critical 3-pointer that helped the Wizards hold off the charging Sonics. Michael Jordan led the Wizards with 26 points and 10 assists, and Jerry Stackhouse added 20 points and nine assists. Lue scored 11 points and handed out four assists.

However, given the circumstances, Collins wouldn't have minded not having Lue around. When the coach found out about Lue's grandfather, he asked whether he wanted to go home to be with his family.

"I said to him, 'If you've got to go, go take care of your family stuff.' I told him, 'If you're going to stay, put your heart and soul into it so you can tell them how great you're doing. But if you can't put your heart and soul into it, then you've got to go see them. You can't be half in and half out. So if you have to get that taken care of, then you go.' You can see what a difference he makes for us."

Lue calls home constantly, checking on his grandfather's condition. He says there has been some talk about removing him from life support, but right now Lue is not in favor of it.

"They wanted to see if [he] could live without the life support, but I told my grandmother not yet," Lue said. "Sooner or later, they're going to have to do it. I mean, if he can't live on his own, there's no need in him suffering. It's tough."

Meanwhile. the Wizards have shown surprising resilience on this trip, which got off to a gloomy start with a blowout loss in Phoenix and a poor defensive effort in a loss to Golden State. The latter dropped the Wizards' record on the road against Western Conference teams to 1-9.

Factor in that the Wizards had won just nine road games all year before beating the playoff-bound Blazers, and another failed playoff run seemed likely.

However, with two games left on this Western Conference swing, the Wizards who face the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers tonight conceivably could finish it with four victories. They close out the trip Sunday at Denver.

That said, the Wizards, and Lue, are looking forward.

"We've been a bad road team all year," Lue said. "But the season is winding down. We've put in a lot of hard work, and these games are important to us."

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