Heading into the 2009-10 season, Larry Hughes saw the writing on the wall.
The chances of the wiry veteran logging meaningful minutes were nothing short of nil. Word of Hughes getting relegated to the pine was littered all over articles, columns, and throughout the growing New York basketball blogosphere.
Rewind the clock to mid-October, and Hughes certainly didn’t augment his chances with his pre-season production wane.
Hughes was mired in a nightmarish 0-for-17 shooting slump, burying his chances under a barrage of bricks. He fell out of favor with the faltering franchise, at a rapid pace. Clank after clank, Ofer followed by another Ofer. The future wasn't promising.
But Hughes, a 6-foot-5 guard who's averaged 14.6 points throughout his career, kept shooting. He kept firing away, as if he had been scorching the nets all along. Hughes thwarted his individual freefall with a 20-point outburst during the Knicks Garden opener, a crushing 141-127 OT loss to the Sixers.
With electrifying, trigger-happy guard Nate Robinson bitten by the injury bug, Hughes’ is thrust back into a familiar role: starter.
“Right now, it’s about trying to string some wins together,” said Hughes, he of the tatted tears and laid-back, cool customer attitude. Hughes' positive image and permasmile-sporting swagger has won over fans in Philly, Golden State, Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, and now the Mecca of basketball. It's desperately needed in New York, where a bevy of headcases (see Marbury, Stephon or Richardson, Quentin) have become rich in a poor, floundering program.
The St. Louis-bred baller, who spent his teenage years kicking it with rapper Nelly and starring at Christian Brothers College High School (where he led the squad to a Missouri state championship in 1997) spent time taking pictures with fans before the game while being peppered with questions from a hungry New York media circus that’s hastily awaiting Lebron James’ arrival Friday night.
Hughes, who played alongside James for three seasons, is also ready to be reunited with the King.
The major challenge cooking on Hughes’ front burner, however, is putting together a win streak and finding a groove for this half-baked Knicks team.
“It’s a new month, November. Obviously we want to just have a winning month. That’s really our goal right now.”
Hughes pierced the nets to the tune of 19.5 points through the Knicks first two home goes, albeit he shot a meager 2-for-10 in the Knicks 101-89 home serving to the Pacers Nov. 4. The game was underscored by the ‘Bockers second half power outage.
Weeks ago, Hughes--the St. Louis-bred baller with the silky stroke--didn't really foresee this role. All signs pointed to Hughes nearing the sunset of his professional career while simultaneously getting hit with unfair bench splinters throughout this 2009-10 season.
What will Hughes do to embrace his jump from spare part to cast member?
“Just play the game,” said Hughes, echoing the words Jake Shuttlesworth once spit out to his son, Jesus when Jake was getting shellacked at the hardscrabble Coney Island courts.
“Just going out and doing my job and really just not putting anything extra on it. Just playing the game, taking whatever the situation calls for, just being aggressive on both ends of the floor, you know?”
The Pacers’ Brandon Rush admitted it felt good to get the monkey off of the Pacers’ back last night. Pasting the Knicks with a 101-87 triumph, The Pacers halt a three-game slide (which made them one of L's three teams without a W entering last night’s tilt at the Garden).
“We were just playing hard and aggressive, they are a fast-paced team,” said Rush, heaping praise on a Knicks team that’s pushed to rehydrate Mike D’Antoni’s go-go, speedball style.
“We played our game, and we came out on top. It was just about grinding it out, one possession at a time and not trying to make a home run play. We try to be a team that plays defense first.”
Rush continued, “There was definitely a sense of urgency (to get the win). We fought hard the whole game. I mean we got some big stops down the stretch of the game. I’m glad we got this first win. I liked the way we played. We played fast, we got shots up. We all played pretty good. We definitely have to carry that over against Washington, because they're a good team."
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