With their most versatile player back in the lineup, the Wizards look to close a three-game homestand with a win when they face the Golden State Warriors, Hughes’ former club.
Hughes returned to the lineup in a big way Wednesday, scoring 31 points, grabbing six rebounds and adding four assists in as 101-98 victory over visiting Houston. Despite playing with a splint on his thumb, Hughes had a block and a dunk before the game was two minutes old and made a 3-pointer with 3:16 remaining to give Washington the lead for good.
“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.”
The Wizards have won eight straight with Hughes in the lineup, but the previous seven came before he was sidelined after a Jan. 15 victory over Phoenix. His teammates went 9-11 in his absence and had lost five of six before his return.
“It was tough because I feel like our record would’ve been better if I had played,” Hughes said. “We were missing a little bit of that kick, of that edge, when I was out.”
Hughes, the league leader with 2.8 steals per game, is the only NBA player averaging more than 20 points (21.5), five rebounds (6.1), five assists (5.3) and 2.5 steals.
Getting Hughes back should only benefit backcourt mate Gilbert Arenas, who had 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists Wednesday. Arenas, however, didn’t have any trouble scoring in Hughes’ absence, averaging 35.5 points over his last four games.
With 33 wins in their first 57 games, the Wizards have their best record at this point since the 1978-89 team was 39-18.
While Washington is likely headed for the playoffs for the first time since 1997, Golden State has been relegated to the role of spoiler with one of the league’s worst records.
The Warriors gave themselves something to build on as they beat Minnesota 99-93 on Wednesday, just their sixth road win in 28 games this season.
“Tonight we showed a lot of character when we were down 11 and kept on fighting,” said Jason Richardson, who scored 12 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter.
STANDINGS (through March 2): Warriors - 5th place, 26 GB, Pacific Division. Wizards - 2nd place, 9 GB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Warriors - Richardson, 22.9 ppg; Murphy, 11.2 rpg; Davis, 7.2 apg. Wizards - Arenas, 25.6 ppg; Jamison, 8.0 rpg; Arenas and Hughes, 5.3 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Wizards, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 20; Wizards, 103-101. At Oakland, Calif., Arenas drove the length of the floor and scored with less than a second left to lift the Wizards. He finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists against his former team.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Warriors - 6-22 on the road; Wizards - 22-8 at home.