CLEVELAND (AP) -He's been called fragile, inconsistent, overpaid and a major disappointment.
On Sunday, Larry Hughes was simply a star.
Hughes scored 27 points and used his intimate knowledge of Washington's offense to help Cleveland stay one step ahead of the Wizards in the Cavaliers' 97-82 win in the opener of their first-round playoff series.
It was a breakout game for Hughes, whose first two seasons with the Cavs haven't gone as well as he - or anyone else - expected.
Last year, his first with Cleveland, Hughes, who has had a history of injury problems, missed 45 regular-season games with a broken right finger on his shooting hand that required two surgeries and still isn't completely healed.
And then Hughes missed four games of the playoffs following the death of his younger brother, Justin, who died during Cleveland's second-round series against Detroit.
But now healed, Hughes is playing with confidence and focus.
``Looking back to last season, I didn't play in many games with a dominant hand injury so it wasn't a great time for me,'' he said. ``I just wanted to be out there for my teammates and do everything I could to support them and help the team win.
``This year, I feel like I have a hand in what we do and how far we go. I'm just happy to be healthy right now.''
In Sunday's win, Hughes, who moved from shooting guard to the point a few months back, still had some struggles. He took a few questionable jumpers - an ongoing problem for the 40-percent shooter - and had four turnovers with just one assist.
But he was assertive with the ball, driving to the basket and finishing drives or getting to the foul line. His 27 points were his most in a playoff game with the Cavs, who will try and take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series on Wednesday.
Hughes, who played 70 games this season, also made a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer, a shot that gave the Cavs a seven-point lead and momentum.
``He's been playing great basketball this season, especially in the last two or three months and he was in a comfort zone yesterday,'' LeBron James said. ``He showed the scoring mentality that he has. He made some outside shots, he made them at the end of the shot clock and he even got a couple baskets with some contact which was good to see.''
After spending three seasons with the Wizards, Hughes signed a five-year, $60 million free-agent contract with the Cavs in 2005. He was brought in to play with James, forming a duo Cleveland hoped would someday get it an NBA title.
But other than Sunday's game and a handful of others, the pair hasn't clicked as regularly on the floor as they'd hoped.
Hughes, though, says there is still time for he and James to grow.
``We're still learning,'' he said. ``We're playing better off each other now, especially since I moved to point guard. It's coming. It's definitely coming where you can expect these type of games out of me.
``At the same time, we have 'Z' (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and have Drew (Gooden) who can also get it done. You just have to be patient and wait for your time to come through.''
Beyond his offense in Game 1, Hughes was able to call out Washington's offensive sets to his teammates. Knowing what the Wizards were doing - or were about to do - gave the Cavs a huge advantage.
``He has been doing it every since he left, so we knew that this was not going to be anything different,'' Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. ``It's something that we talked about before we went to Cleveland and we worked on a few things as far as not letting them know what we were doing.''
The performance gave Hughes a confident boost at the perfect time.
``It makes me want more,'' he said. ``It makes me hungrier to go out there and get another victory. I definitely understand that when I play well I give this team a great chance of winning, so I have to be confident and focused to play well every night.''

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