- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Forward Kwame Brown will be in the lineup tonight when the Washington Wizards open the second half of their unexpectedly successful season against Memphis, and there is a good chance guard Larry Hughes also will play.

Brown, who has appeared in just 14 games because of various injuries to his right foot, has been cleared to play. Hughes will be examined by a doctor this afternoon, and is expected to be cleared to play as well.

“We’ll see if he’s ready to go live,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said of Hughes, who has missed 17 games with a broken right thumb. “Kwame looks like he’s ready.”

Hughes was putting up All-Star numbers with career highs in points (21.2), rebounds (6.1) and assists (5.3) before breaking the thumb in the waning moments of a 108-103 victory over Phoenix on Jan.15. He also set the defensive tone for the Wizards with a league-leading 2.82 steals a game.

Asked what impact he expects Hughes’ return to provide, Jordan replied, “A huge spark, once he’s actually ready to play.” Though the Wizards’ improvement (30-22 after going 25-57 last season) has been the talk of the NBA, they lost their last three games before the All-Star break. During Hughes’ absence, they have gone 8-9.

“It’s going to take maybe two weeks for him to really get back,” Jordan said. “He missed [nearly] six weeks, and that’s a lot. I don’t think it’s going to be as long for him [to reach peak form] as it will for Kwame. It’s going to be huge having him back at both ends of the floor and leadership-wise.”

Hughes did not guarantee he would be on the court tonight but didn’t rule it out either. All he knows for certain is that he’s ready to rejoin the Wizards in their push for the franchise’s first playoff berth since 1997.

“It’s going to be big just from the standpoint that we’ll get fresh legs out there,” Hughes said of himself and Brown, both of whom are in the final year of their contracts.

Brown, who missed the first 12 games with a broken foot, yesterday said his first return to the team probably was too hasty. He resumed play Dec.1 overweight at 270 pounds — much of it muscle he added during the offseason — and since has had one setback after another. Most recently he was placed on the injured list with a strained ankle tendon.

“If I had sat out the whole time and been patient like Etan [Thomas], I probably would have been at full speed by now,” Brown said, comparing himself to the team’s backup center who missed 32 games with a severely strained abdomen. “It’s just one of those things where it’s hard to tell somebody to stay off the court when all they know is basketball.

“I’m a lot healthier now,” he continued, indicating he has lost close to 15 pounds. “Now I can really focus on running and getting in shape. Before I couldn’t, because there was so much pain in my foot. Now I can really run full speed and it’s just about getting in better shape so I can run longer.”

For Brown, according to Jordan, the formula is simple: run the court, rebound and defend the post.

Brown agreed that formula should work for him and his team. He also said the fact that his contract will expire at the end of the season will have no bearing on how he plays.

“As long as I focus on rebounding, running and defending — and as long as the team improves — it will be OK,” Brown said. “We took a little bit of a dip, and the second half of the season is going to be crunch time. I think the better shape I get in, it will be easier for me to show that I can make this team better. Then I’ve done my job, and I’ve made myself look good.”


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