- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

Washington Wizards guard Larry Hughes, who has missed 19 games with a broken left wrist, says he is ready to play and expects to return to the lineup perhaps as soon as today against Miami at MCI Center.

“We’ll see how it responds in the morning,” coach Eddie Jordan said after Hughes participated in his second full-contact practice yesterday. “It might not even be a game-time decision. Maybe he’ll feel all right in the morning and tell us that he’s ready. He’s ahead of schedule.”

Whether he returns today against Miami or Tuesday at Utah, Hughes is expected to replace Mitchell Butler in the starting lineup.

“I’m more inclined to start him,” Jordan said. “Mitchell is a real professional; he’s real flexible. But he knows that ultimately when Larry is ready, Larry is going to be the starter.”

Before being placed on the injured list last month, Hughes had been putting together a solid season. In 48 games, Hughes averaged 18.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

Hughes originally suffered the injury in a 103-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb.4, a game in which he scored 27 points. Two days later, Hughes was back in the lineup against the Los Angeles Clippers and looked good in a 112-100 victory, scoring 21 points.

However, in a 106-88 loss at Cleveland on Feb.7, the pain became too much for Hughes, who left after seven minutes and hasn’t played since.

After the Wizards broke practice yesterday, Hughes remained late for extra work with Jordan and his staff. During practice, Hughes said he took a few shots to his injured wrist but wasn’t bothered by them.

“It didn’t hurt,” Hughes said. “I’m really looking forward to getting back out there. I might have to wear something to protect it. We’ll let the doctors decide what’s best. But right now I feel good after going through practices. I can do just about everything.”

When Hughes returns, the Wizards, who have the maximum 12 players on the active roster, would be forced to place somebody on the injured list. A likely candidate appears to be backup forward/center Christian Laettner, who practiced yesterday but has missed four games with a sore back.

One player who won’t be sitting down any time soon is third-year man and franchise building block Kwame Brown. Brown followed up career highs in points (30) and rebounds (19) in a stunning 114-108 win over Sacramento with 27 points and 11 rebounds against the Hawks.

Yesterday Jordan complimented Brown on his recent performances but challenged the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft to continue to improve over the final 14 games of the season.

“His numbers are big lately,” Jordan said, “but as a coach and staff, we want to see his overall game develop. We want him to be as good defensively as he is offensively because of his size, quickness and agility. We would like for his defense to be even better than his offense.”

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