- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

A 15-second span in the fourth quarter of last Friday’s victory against the New Jersey Nets serves as a microcosm of Larry Hughes’ recent performance.

Washington’s starting shooting guard nailed a 3-pointer, stole the inbounds pass and converted a layup that pushed the Wizards’ lead to 87-70 and took the wind out of a Nets’ rally with just under five minutes remaining.

“That was big, no question about it,” Hughes said. “It was big for us.”

Hughes certainly has come up big for the Wizards (6-4). The league leader in steals — at 3.33 he is the only player averaging at least three — Hughes has picked up his play dramatically this season.

Since going 3-for-12 from the field for seven points in a 31-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov.13, only Antawn Jamison has proved more valuable to the Wizards, who have won three straight games for the first time in more than a year.

Hughes is averaging 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and four steals over the last four games.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan and Hughes’ teammates contend the steals have been his most important contribution. Since the team started training camp more than seven weeks ago, improving the defense has been Washington’s top priority.

And Hughes has made it his personal focus.

“It comes naturally to me,” said the lanky 6-foot-5 Hughes. “Making that extra effort and being able to eliminate mistakes. I know I can get [steals] but I don’t want to make a lot of mistakes trying to get them. That’s the big thing, that I’m not making a lot of mistakes trying to get them, so I’m not gambling too much.”

Hughes’ recent play has not gone unnoticed.

“Larry, more than anybody else, is setting the tone with his steals and making havoc,” Jamison said. “We are going to score points without even thinking about it.”

Added Jordan: “His defense is really generating his offensive flow. He’s getting some buckets out on the break and some easy buckets. It’s going hand and hand.”

Despite Washington’s season being just 10 games old, some statistics are impossible to ignore. For one, with Gilbert Arenas (19.9), Hughes (18.4) and Jamison (24.1), the Wizards can score with anyone.

However, when they don’t defend well they can be beaten. In their four losses the Wizards have allowed an average of 112 points. In their five wins they are holding teams to an average of 90.

“We know that if we play defense things will come — good things,” said Hughes, in the final year of his contract. “That’s how it is.”

Note — Mitchell Butler, a team captain last season, Wednesday was named director of player development.

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