<
>

Richardson still out with back spasms

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A strong first half by Larry Hughes and two
spurts of instant offense by rookie guard Steve Blake were too much
for the Clippers to overcome.

Hughes scored 24 of his 30 points before halftime, and Blake had
seven of his 17 points in the final 4:42 as the Washington Wizards
ended a five-game road losing streak with a 103-94 victory over Los
Angeles on Thursday night.

Hughes, playing his third game since coming off the injured
list, shot 11-for-20 and tied a career high with 12 rebounds to
help the Wizards win for only the third time in 13 games. It's the
second straight season that they've swept the Clippers.

"We know how well we can play when we're healthy," Hughes
said. "It has just been hard for us to play consistently. It was
good for us to come out and play with the intensity we showed
tonight, and I feel we can play with anybody in the league when we
are at full strength."

Jerry Stackhouse had 20 points for the Wizards. Leading scorer
Gilbert Arenas, who sat out Tuesday's loss at Utah after playing 22
scoreless minutes with a sprained right ankle at Miami, returned to
the lineup and missed his first six shots before finishing with 11
points in 33 minutes.

Corey Maggette scored 25 points and Elton Brand had 18 for the
Clippers, who matched their longest losing streak of the season
with their sixth straight defeat. Quentin Richardson sat out for
the fourth time in five games because of back spasms, and Matt
Barnes was scratched because of the flu.

"It's tough to beat any team that shoots like they did
tonight," Maggette said. "This is the most frustrating part of
the season. We have our two starting guards out (Richardson and
Marko Jaric), but we're going to keep giving one hundred percent."

Arenas, who missed all six shots in the first half, made a
19-footer and a 3-pointer 27 seconds apart to give the Wizards a
52-64 advantage with 6:17 left in the third quarter.

The Clippers got it down to 86-84 when Melvin Ely put back a
missed layup by Eddie House with 3:21 to play. But Blake made a
21-footer, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in a three-minute
span to give Washington a 93-88 lead with 1:45 left. Hughes' two
free throws clinched it with 37.4 seconds remaining.

"Steve has been working hard all year, and his hard work is
playing off," Stackhouse said. "He's a guy who's always early to
practice and stays late after practice, trying to hone in on his
shot. I think that was the knock on him coming into the NBA -- that
he couldn't hit the outside shot. But he just worked at it and
worked at it."

The Wizards, who jumped out to a 25-3 lead against the Clippers
in a win Feb. 6 at Washington, opened this one with a 22-6 run and
led 53-46 at halftime after a 15-point second quarter by Hughes.

The sixth-year guard made three shots from 3-point range and a
12-footer -- all in the final two minutes of the half -- after the
Clippers reduced a 16-point deficit to 42-41 with an 11-0 run
capped by Brand's dunk.

"Trailing by 16 points is too much when guys are out," Brand
said "We would get it close, but then we would have possessions
where we didn't execute and turned the ball over."

Brand and Maggette each picked up two fouls in the first 6:35 of
the game and started out a combined 0-for-8 from the field.

"We got off to a tough start," coach Mike Dunleavy said.
"They forced turnovers and we just couldn't get back under
control. Then Blake came in and he didn't miss a shot. We tried to
play a zone, since we had such a small lineup tonight, but we just
couldn't match them athletically."

Game notes
Friday marks the sixth anniversary of the groundbreaking
for Staples Center. The Clippers are 92-116 at the arena. ...
Arenas, selected the NBA's most improved player last season, was
courted heavily by the Clippers during the offseason when he became
a restricted free agent. But Arenas and agent Dan Fegan chose
Washington because of the personal involvement of Wizards owner Abe
Pollin in the negotiations. ... The Clippers expect to have a new
practice facility for the start of the 2005-06 season -- which can't
come soon enough for Dunleavy. "Right now we're down to three
potential sites," Dunleavy said. "Part of it has to do with where
we stand with our lease at Staples. Maybe we'll stay at Staples or
potentially move to Anaheim. I don't know." The Clippers' six-year
Staples Center lease expires after next season.