Hughes' status for Game 3 still uncertain

Updated: May 12, 2006, 7:33 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Saddened by an unexpected death in their family, the Cavaliers prepared to play their biggest game in years not knowing if starting guard Larry Hughes will be back for Game 3.

Shooting Guard
Cleveland Cavaliers

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Hughes left the team on Thursday after his 20-year-old brother, Justin, died after battling complications from a 1997 heart transplant. He was born with a heart defect and endured a lifetime of health issues.

Hughes, who helped raise Justin and honored him by having "I Am My Brother's Keeper" tattooed on his neck, was with his family in St. Louis. Justin's funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.

LeBron James said after Friday's practice that he didn't anticipate Hughes returning for Saturday's playoff game against the Detroit Pistons, who hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"Honestly, no," James said. "I don't expect him to come back. It would be a big surprise if he did."

Cavaliers coach Mike Brown had not spoken to Hughes since before he left town and has no plans to contact him.

"The only thing that I'm concerned about is Larry Hughes being with his family, and on top of that, we'll just figure it out as we go along," Brown said. "If I need to get in touch with him, I'll reach out to him. But right now, he needs time to be with his family.

"I have not attempted to call him, and I'm not going to attempt to call him right now. He was extremely close to his brother, he's got a lot going on."

Being without Hughes is nothing new for the Cavaliers. He missed 45 games during the regular season after undergoing two surgeries on his right middle finger. Hughes is not completely healed and his finger has bothered him during the postseason.

Cleveland went 26-19 while Hughes was sidelined, but if their best defender isn't available for Games 3 or 4, the Cavaliers' chances of coming back against the powerful Pistons will be even more remote.

Flip Murray, who averaged 13.7 points in 25 starts since coming to Cleveland in a Feb. 26 trade with Seattle, likely will start if Hughes is not back.

"The only good thing about it is that we played 40-some games without him so we kind of know how to play without him," James said. "You hate to lose a defender, great scorer and team leader like that, but we know how to play without him."

Playing with a pad on his finger, Hughes has scored just 16 points on 8-of-24 shooting against the Pistons. With Detroit's defensive focus on James, the Pistons are giving some of the other Cavaliers a chance to step up their scoring. So far, none has.

Murray could provide a spark. The Cavs were 18-7 with him in the starting lineup.

"If it comes down to me starting and Larry not here, I just have to be ready to come and play," Murray said.

Justin Hughes' passing has affected the Cavaliers as well as the Pistons, who offered their condolences.

"That's tough," Detroit guard Chauncey Billups said. "I know Larry, and I've met his brother. They are a great family, and I really feel bad for them. It's been obvious that Larry hasn't been Larry in this series, and I know he's been coming back from the injury and trying to get into a rhythm, but this has to have made things even worse.

"You can't expect that something like that isn't going to affect you."

The odds of the Cavaliers coming back on the Pistons are long, but not impossible.

Since 1969, 10 teams have rallied from an 0-2 hole to win a best-of-seven playoff series. Last season, both Dallas and Washington did it to advance past the first round.

There's also a chance that the Cavs, who are in second round for the first time since 1993, may only have two games left. Detroit has lost nine of its last 10 road playoff Game 3s, but James knows there's a possibility of a sweep.

"You hate to think about that, but it is a reality that it might happen," James said. "But it's also possible we can come back from 0-2. There a lot of different scenarios. If that [sweep] may happen, which I don't intend it to, it doesn't take anything away from this season.

"We're confident. No one's head is down about this series."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press