Hayes will start; Dixon back in reserve

Updated: January 20, 2005, 7:48 PM ET
Associated Press

FAIRFAX, Va. -- The Washington Wizards had no idea they'd miss Larry Hughes this much.

Two blowout losses have forced Eddie Jordan to make another lineup change to compensate for the loss of his best all-around player. At Thursday's practice, the coach inserted Jarvis Hayes at shooting guard and returned Juan Dixon to his customary role as sixth man.

Larry Hughes
Shooting Guard
Washington Wizards
34 21.2 6.1 5.3 .435 .779

"Those two losses, they can devastating to you if you allow them to be," Jordan said.

Jordan and the players admitted that the loss of Hughes, who broke his thumb in Saturday's win over Phoenix, has been as much psychological as physical. Hughes, a co-captain, was having a career season, averaging 21.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and a league-leading 2.8 steals, and had developed a rare chemistry with fellow guard Gilbert Arenas.

"Gil and Larry were playing off each other as well as anybody in the league, like twins in a sense," Jordan said. "He lost his twin now for four to six weeks. We've got to recover."

Hughes, Arenas and Antawn Jamison had led the Wizards to their best start in decades, including a seven-game winning streak capped by the victory over the Suns. Since Hughes' injury, Washington has been routed by 28 points in San Antonio and by 17 in Dallas.

"We've got to tighten up on defense," Arenas said. "We can't play like we were playing when Larry was here -- play casual and then the last six minutes turn it up. We've got play the whole 48 minutes."

Arenas visited Hughes on Wednesday's day off and found his teammate practically itching to rent a time machine after watching the two losses.

"He had the schedule right in front of him, looking at when he's going to come back," Arenas said.

The Wizards, forced to practice at George Mason University on Thursday because of the presidential inauguration, can stop their skid Friday at home against Toronto, a soft spot in an otherwise tough part of the schedule. Jordan is hoping the Hayes-Dixon lineup switch will help.

Dixon started for Hughes in Texas and played relatively well offensively, but there was no one to replace the spark Dixon usually gives when coming off the bench. Also, Dixon is limited in the ways he can be used defensively because he's 6-foot-3.

"It's nothing against Juan," Jordan said. "Juan is a great energy guy off the bench."

Indeed, Dixon seemed to approve of the move -- even though it takes him out of the starting lineup.

"I'm pretty familiar with the sixth-man role on this team, so hopefully I can continue in that role and continue to grow into it," Dixon said.

Hayes has had an inconsistent season because of his own thumb injury. Strained ligaments in his right thumb have made it painful to handle the ball, and he said can't recover fully until he gets some rest in the offseason.

"It's still bothering me, but just fight through it," Hayes said. "I'm not missing a game because of my thumb."

Hayes has been used mostly at small forward, but he said he feels more natural at shooting guard. Still, he'll have a tough task meshing with Arenas in the same way Hughes did -- the pair looked out of sync at times during Thursday's workout.

"Larry and Gilbert had it rolling," Hayes said. "I just want to fill in until Larry gets back."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press