- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2004

The faint outline of a basketball team broke its descent toward oblivion last night.

With Larry Hughes scoring a season-high 43 points, the Washington Wizards defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 94-87 before 17,143 at MCI Center to snap a four-game losing streak.

Hughes received support from Kwame Brown, who had a double-double, with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Jarvis Hayes added 10 points and had seven rebounds.

It was the Wizards’ first victory in 10 games against Atlantic Division opponents and their first over the 76ers since April10, 2002.

The Wizards got bad news before the game, with point guard Gilbert Arenas being placed on the injured list for the third time this season. Arenas, the team’s marquee signing last summer, has not been himself since straining abdominal muscles in the 13th game of the season. This was his second attempt to beat back the injury bogeyman.

Arenas won’t be eligible to come off the injured list for at least five games. The development further strains an already fragile roster.

Jerry Stackhouse, expected to be the team’s leader and No.1 scoring option, has not appeared in a game after undergoing knee surgery in October. His return, late this month or early next, has become almost a nonfactor in a season that has slipped away.

Brevin Knight, picked up in the Jahidi White trade, started in place of Arenas and provided a steadying influence. Although Knight is a pure point guard who sticks to the Eddie Jordan playbook, he lacks the offensive capabilities of Arenas, who is averaging 18.2 points.

Knight scored only two points but finished with six assists, five steals and four rebounds in 39 minutes.

“There was a lot of leadership out there,” Jordan said. “Brevin gave us great leadership, and Larry was feeling it on offense.”

Hughes, who broke out of his shooting slump in Orlando, compensated for the absence of Arenas in the first half, scoring 28 points. The outburst staked the Wizards to a 46-43 lead after 24 minutes.

Hughes, normally most comfortable as a third option, has struggled mightily at times in the absence of Stackhouse and an up-and-down Arenas. Yet against a team that gave up on him early in his career, Hughes converted a couple of steals into layups in the early going and settled into a comfortable rhythm.

The effort was appreciated.

As Jordan said early last week, whether it is the good Hughes or the bad one, he has no choice but to stick with him at this point.

The rest of the roster is hardly in the mood to score, which is why the Wizards sometimes appear to be playing in the peach-basket era.

Their 25-point first half in Orlando on Friday night was merely the latest example of a team that sometimes would be no worse off hoisting up open 35-footers. The Wizards might hit two out of every 10 and cut down on their turnovers, which often lead to layups for the opposition.

The Wizards stretched their lead to 65-55 after three quarters, seemingly washing away a month’s worth of basketball transgressions. Given the team’s recent state, a 10-point lead after 36 minutes was almost cause to stop the game and hand out a commemorative basketball.

In the final quarter, the Wizards refused to acquiesce to all the bad karma in their midst.

Etan Thomas, the forward with a lot of poet in him, blocked a shot by Eric Snow to excite the throng. That led to an easy basket for Juan Dixon and a 78-67 lead with 6:49 left.

The 76ers, of course, made a late run, closing to three points before a 15-footer from Hughes sealed the issue for the Wizards.

“We found a way to survive down the stretch,” Jordan said. “Sometimes with this team, you don’t know what makes them tick or what makes them unwind.”



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