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
"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
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."