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Washington wins 8th in a row with Hughes in lineup

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Larry Hughes stunned his teammates, his coach
and the fans with 31 points in his first game back from a broken
thumb. To hear him talk, it was his game plan all along.

Hughes did not ease himself back into the lineup the way many
injured players do. He had a block and a dunk before the game was
two minutes old. He played 37 minutes, made 11 of 20 shots, grabbed
six rebounds, had four assists and made the 3-pointer that gave the
Washington Wizards the lead for good in Wednesday night's 101-98
victory over the Houston Rockets.

"That was above and beyond the call of duty, it really was,"
coach Eddie Jordan said. "Just to come and play those minutes and
to score the points and play the 'D' and make timely shots late in
the game. Man, that was a classic."

The Wizards have an eight-game winning streak when Hughes is in
the lineup, but the previous seven came before he was sidelined
after a victory over Phoenix on Jan. 15. His teammates went 9-11 in
his absence and had lost five of their last six. Though playing
with a splint on his thumb, he showed no ill effects from the
injury as he resumed his backcourt chemistry with Gilbert Arenas,
who finished with 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

"A lot of players who get injured, it takes them three of four
games to get a swagger back," Arenas said. "But it was like he
didn't miss a beat."

Hughes credited his success to waiting until he was properly
healed to attempt a return. His thumb was broken when it was hit by
Quentin Richardson during a drive in the paint, and he didn't want
another hack from a defender to re-injure the thumb and knock him
out for the season.

"You're the only person who knows your body," Hughes said.
"I've been around in this league, and I know that you have to take
care of yourself. You have to make sure that you're ready to go,
and that's really what I did."

Meanwhile, Hughes stayed in shape and kept himself mentally
sharp by watching his teammates closely during his time on the
sideline. Asked if he expected to have this kind of night in his
first game back, he said: "Yeah, I did."

"This is how I planned it," he added. "I planned to come back
stronger and more aggressive than I was in the first part of the
season."

The Wizards blew a 17-point, third-quarter lead but rallied from
an eight-point fourth quarter deficit. Hughes' 3-pointer put
Washington ahead with 3:16 remaining, part of a 13-2 run in which
Hughes and Arenas combined for 11.

Brendan Haywood scored six of his 12 points in the final two
minutes, including a short turnaround fadeaway jumper over Yao Ming
to put the Wizards ahead 99-95 with 50 seconds left. Tracy McGrady
made a 3-pointer for his last of his 26 points with seven seconds
remaining, but Arenas made two free throws with six seconds to play
to put the Wizards up by three.

McGrady then missed a 3-pointer that could have tied the game at
the buzzer and, like everyone else, was left to marvel over Hughes'
performance.

"I thought he was going to be rusty," McGrady said. "I
thought his timing was going to be off a little bit, but he
definitely proved me wrong."

Mike James added 24 points for the Rockets, who had six players
in double figures but lost for the fourth time in five games since
the All-Star break.

The Rockets played Tuesday night in Chicago and were hurt by a
slow start that included 10 first-half turnovers. Yao, unable to
hold his own in the paint against Haywood, made just 3 of 9 shots
and finished with 11 points.

"In the first half we were kind of lackadaisical in our play,
but we did a great job of fighting back," McGrady said. "Towards
the end, we made some silly mistakes on the offensive end. We were
careless with the ball."

Hughes also had two steals, resuming his chase for the NBA
steals title. He entered the game leading the league in steals per
game (2.82) and was the only NBA player averaging more than 20
points (21.2), five rebounds (6.1), five assists (5.3) and 2.5
steals.

Game notes
Hayes has tendinitis in his right knee, while Jeffries has
a deep bruise in his right knee. ... Kwame Brown, making his second
start of the season, had a season-high 12 rebounds for the Wizards.
... Washington's home game against Cleveland on April 15 has been
moved from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN. ...
Arenas offered an assessment on Hughes that only a modern music fan
would understand. "I told him I don't want to see him come back
like Ma$e did an be a flop," said Arenas, referring to the rapper
whose hip-hop comeback last summer was a bust.