Larry Hughes was something special.
Hughes scored a season-high 43 points Saturday night, using a few breathtaking moves along the way, to lead the NBA’s second-worst team to a rare 94-87 victory.
“I’ve been working on my shot. I had a 5-for-23 I wanted to get off my back,” said Hughes, referring to a dreadful shooting game earlier this month against Milwaukee. “I wanted to come back and have a good show.”
The Wizards broke a four-game losing streak that included a Friday night road loss to Orlando, the league’s worst team. Hughes scored 28 points in the first half, shouldering the load by necessity after the pregame news that Gilbert Arenas would be sidelined three to six weeks after re-aggravating an abdominal injury.
The Wizards won their first game against an Atlantic Division team this year, ending an 0-9 streak. They also ended a six-game losing streak against the 76ers.
“A win is a win to us,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “If you’re the Nets, in first or second place in the league, you’re looking at division wins. We’re looking at any win from anybody.”
Hughes played 43 minutes, made 17 of 29 shots, seven of eight free throws and had five steals and a key offensive rebound in the final two minutes. He finished one point shy of his career high of 44 points.
His scoring leadership was needed because Arenas, averaging 18.2 points, reaggravated his strained lower abdomen at Orlando and was placed on the injured list. The Wizards are already without guard Jerry Stackhouse, who hasn’t played all season because of a knee injury.
“We need him to shoot well. We need everyone to shoot well. We can’t rely on Larry to get us 43 every night,” Jordan said. “We’ve got to get a little more equally balanced as far as scoring.”
Glenn Robinson scored 22 points to lead the 76ers. Allen Iverson scored 15 points but had nine turnovers. Jordan said he kept Iverson bottled up on one side, a tip he learned from Iverson himself when interviewing for the 76ers coaching job during the offseason.
Iverson played despite injuring his left shoulder in the third quarter of Friday night’s victory over New Jersey. He has also been fighting flulike symptoms.
“I’m out there on the basketball court, so I don’t have excuses for how bad I play,” Iverson said. “I don’t blame it on anything. If I felt that I couldn’t get the job done, then I wouldn’t have stepped out there on the court. It was just one of those nights for me.”
The Wizards led 80-67 with 7:51 remaining, but a 10-2 Philadelphia run cut the lead to five. The deficit was down to four when Robinson’s 3-pointer rimmed out with less to two minutes to play. The Wizards took possession, which Hughes kept alive by hustling for an offensive rebound, and Jared Jeffries’ dunk put Washington up 88-82 with 1:17 to go.
Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer cut the lead to three, but Hughes responded one more time—with a 17-footer with 52 seconds remaining that helped seal the game.
Hughes’ first-half performance was stunning. He converted a pair of steals into layups in the first quarter, then caught the 76ers napping on a one-on-four break and accelerated toward the hoop to draw the foul for a three-point play.
In the second quarter, Hughes drove down the lane and was forced by Samuel Dalembert to change the shot in midair. It somehow went in.
By then, he knew he was rolling, and he celebrated with a fist pump after a 3-pointer from the left wing, set up by Etan Thomas’ block of Iverson’s layup at the other end.
Hughes scored seven straight Washington points early in the third quarter to put the Wizards up by eight. The 76ers made just four field goals and had 10turnovers in the quarter.
The Wizards last beat the 76ers on April 10, 2002. … Brevin Knight got his first start of the season in place of Arenas. … Kwame Brown returned to the starting lineup for Washington and had 14 points and 13 rebounds. …The 76ers went 19-for-20 from the free-throw line.