Thursday April 26th, 2007

CLEVELAND -- Larry Hughes is an experiment. Well, his position is. The Cavaliers' shooting guard-turned-point guard is in the second month of his transition from player to playmaker and, as in any experiment, you are bound to have a multitude of results.

In the first quarter of Game 2 of the Cavaliers and Wizards series Wednesday night, Hughes feathered a perfect pass into Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Ilgauskas didn't finish the play, but he did recover the rebound and drew the foul. Two points, Cleveland.

On the very next possession, Hughes fired a pinpoint pass to ... no one. His intended target was Ilgauskas, but unfortunately Big Z zigged when he should have zagged and the ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds. Turnover, Cleveland.

"But," insists Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. "Larry makes a whole lot more good plays than bad."

The Larry Hughes Point Guard Experiment has been a game of trial and error since early March, when Hughes took over the starting point guard spot from Daniel Gibson. Hughes' switch to the point wasn't a case of Brown spotting something in a film session; rather, Brown liked what he saw from a Hughes-Sasha Pavlovic-LeBron James lineup and opted to make it his starting unit when Gibson, who had taken over for Eric Snow a month earlier, suffered a toe injury. Inserting the 6-5 Hughes also gave Cleveland one of the biggest backcourts in the league.

"I'm no genius," says Brown. "Sasha was the sixth man when Gibson got hurt. I just liked how they played together so I made it the starting lineup."

Brown says he did not take into account Hughes' brief run as the Philadelphia 76ers' point guard, a position he filled with limited success during his first two seasons. There, Hughes earned praise from Sixers coach Larry Brown for his defense but never meshed with Allen Iverson and was eventually replaced in the lineup by Snow. Less than a year later, Hughes was shipped out of town.

There have been no such struggles this season. Shortly after Hughes took over the starting spot on March 3, the Cavaliers rattled off eight consecutive wins. His trademark defense began to show. In Hughes' first three weeks in the starting backcourt, Cleveland held opponents to 41.8 percent shooting, the lowest percentage in the league during that stretch.

"He has been everything we could have asked for," says Brown. "He gets to the free throw line. He doesn't turn the ball over. He plays defense. He does a good job settling down our ballclub. I have no complaints with Larry Hughes."

Adds Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, "His ability to score from that spot is a huge factor. Plus, he rebounds (Hughes has 15 boards through the first two games). Not a lot of point guards give you that."

It helps when you play in an offense that doesn't ask much from the position.

"All we want him to do is get the ball over the court," says a Cavaliers team source. "After that, we don't have much need for a point guard. But if he shoots like the way he has (Hughes is firing at a 50 percent clip in the postseason) we might not lose a game."

Still, the Hughes experiment does have it's potential drawbacks. Flash ahead to the second round and the Cavaliers are looking at a possible matchup with New Jersey, which boasts one of the league's premier point guards in Jason Kidd.

"New Jersey is going to pick and roll him to death," says an opposing team's scout. "Larry is a great defensive player -- but he is a gambler. He's most effective when he can play the passing lanes. The Nets are going to force him to fight his way over the top. That takes away some of his effectiveness."

• One rumor circulating in Cleveland centers on Wizards assistant Mike O'Koren. Speculation has O'Koren, Washington's lead assistant for the last four seasons, as a candidate for the head coaching vacancy in Sacramento.

• The feeling on press row was that LeBron's ankle injury may be worse than he has indicated. James struggled through a first quarter where he scored five points and did not pull down a single rebound. A star player misleading the media on an injury is not uncommon; usually they downplay or exacerbate it -- in LeBron's case, it appears to be the former.

• Finally, an open plea to the NBA: Ease up on the special effects. Cleveland's piped-in crowd noise, constant music playing and fire-powered introductions border on ridiculous. Good teams will attract fans; bad teams won't. The Pistons could play in an open warehouse on 8-Mile road and they would still sell out. You could roll the Barnum and Bailey circus through Phillips Arena in Atlanta and the upper bowl will still be a ghost town.

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