- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With the lowly New Jersey Nets having erased a 14-point deficit, Larry Hughes knew he needed to do something if the Washington Wizards were going to avoid the embarrassment of losing to a team going nowhere fast.

So Hughes, a man of few words, took over the game in a span of about two minutes and boosted the Wizards to a 97-86 victory last night at Continental Airlines Arena.

Hughes finished with 22 points and three assists. The league leader in steals this season with a 3.43 average, Hughes picked up another five, one less than the Nets had.

His biggest came during a stretch in the fourth quarter when he outscored the Nets 7-2 to extend what had been a 81-79 Washington lead to 88-81 with 4:21 left.

New Jersey, which committed 19 turnovers and was outscored 30-17 in the fourth quarter, got no closer than 88-83 the rest of the way.

“It was just being focused,” Hughes said of his play late in the game. “We know as a team we have the talent. We are concentrating on making the right play at the end. We are confident that we are a good team.”

Said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, who also earned his first coaching win over the Nets, where he was an assistant coach from 1999 to 2003: “Larry was big again. Larry’s defense is generating his offensive flow. It’s creating some easy buckets for him.”

As for finally getting a win over his old team, Jordan said, “It’s always different and emotional here for various reasons. Right now the Wizards are 5-4, and we’re moving uptown.”

The victory was the Wizards’ first at New Jersey since Nov. 3, 1999, and was just their second against the Nets in their last 12 meetings. And they earned it despite a season-low performance from point guard Gilbert Arenas. Three fouls in the first quarter limited Arenas to just 28 minutes, and he finished with only seven points.

But Washington got help from other places, particularly forward Antawn Jamison. Jamison led all scorers, reaching 27 points for the second game in a row.

Washington also got a nice effort from reserve forward Jarvis Hayes (14 points).

Still, the Wizards had to overcome a 5-for-22 shooting performance in the third quarter to preserve the victory.

Washington blew a 14-point lead in the second quarter, a lead the Wizard earned by shooting close to 59 percent from the field in the period (10-for-17) and by running off 14 consecutive points in the overlap of the first and second quarters to lead 34-23 with nine minutes to play in the half.

And then there was that third quarter.

“We have to get to the point where we have a team down and take advantage of it,” Jamison said. “I don’t want to say we let up — it’s just that our concentration is just not there. When we go into halftime, we get too relaxed. We have to do a better job of making it harder for our opponents to score in the third quarter. That will come.”

Richard Jefferson had 22 points for New Jersey (2-7), which also got 16 from Eric Williams. The Nets are so bad their only solace was that the 86 points were their highest total at home, where they are 1-6.

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