By Brian Windhorst
Akron Beacon Journal
CLEVELAND - The Cavaliers are prepared to play without Larry Hughes.
They are not expecting him to be there for tonight's Game 3 against the Detroit Pistons, and he's doubtful for Monday's Game 4 as he grieves with family following the death of his brother.
"I don't expect him to come back," Cavaliers guard LeBron James said Friday. "It would be a big surprise if he did come back. We have to clear our mind the best way we can and go out and play."
The wake for Justin Hughes, who passed away early Thursday after battling a heart condition for his whole life, will be Monday evening in St. Louis at the same time as Game 4 in Cleveland. The funeral is scheduled for Tuesday morning, and Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said the team is considering flying to Missouri to show support.
Meanwhile, at practice Friday, Flip Murray stepped into the starting lineup in Hughes' place. It is a familiar spot for everyone, considering Murray made 25 starts in Hughes' absence during the regular season.
"Whatever the situation is, I'm going to just go out there and play," Murray said. "I'm going to do the same stuff I was doing all year."
The Cavaliers really need Murray to do something. He was a factor off the bench in the first-round series against the Washington Wizards, especially in the final three games. In Games 4, 5 and 6, Murray averaged 17.3 points and shot 56 percent. He scored 10 crucial points in the third quarter of Game 5, while James sat out with foul trouble. Then he scored 21 points in Game 6 to help the Cavaliers clinch the series.
In the two games against the Pistons, however, Murray has been a nonfactor. He's scored just five points in those games and is 0-of-11 from the field. Yet the Cavaliers are still talking confidently. They held their own when Hughes missed 45 games due to a finger injury during the season and were 18-7 with Murray in the starting lineup.
"We faced adversity throughout this year with Larry being out with his finger," center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said.
"We'll miss him (but) we think this team can sustain. We were able to stay afloat during the season so I think Flip is capable of stepping in and doing the job."
The Cavaliers are trying their best to beat the mighty Pistons, who have beaten them five consecutive times dating back to February. But the Cavaliers admit they are facing an extremely difficult task to just wrestle away one game.
"I would like to beat them, obviously, but it is hard," Ilgauskas said. "From all my years playing the Pistons, right now this is probably the best I've seen them play.
"I don't know if it is the playoffs because I've never seen them in the playoffs, or just because they're hitting a stride, but they look pretty good, especially when you're on the court."
Brown and general manager Danny Ferry like to say the Pistons have a great deal of "corporate knowledge," about how they play. That is a respectful way of saying "they know what they're doing." As for the players, they're inventing words to describe their opponent.
"They're a great team and they have great chemistry," Murray said. "Right now they're showing their veteranism."
In the first two games, the Cavaliers have seen why the Pistons took nearly 300 more free throws than their opponents during the regular season. Even though the Pistons play rough defensively, they committed the fifth fewest fouls in the league this season. They already have 20 more free throws than the Cavaliers, and they've held James, who ranked sixth in the NBA in free-throw attempts, to just 10 in the first two games.
James, who finished a distant runner-up to Steve Nash for NBA Most Valuable Player, has been named the league's co-MVP along with the Phoenix Suns guard by the Sporting News.
The magazine sent a ballot to every team, instructing them to have their coach, general manager, assistant general manager or player personnel director pick the league's top player for the 2005-06 season.
Of the 28 ballots cast, James and Nash each received eight first-place votes. Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dirk Nowitzki got six apiece.
"We usually break the tie," said Stan McNeal, managing editor of The Sporting News. "But this year it seemed like a tie was the way to go because the voting was close."
The Cavaliers will honor NBA Hall of Famer and former Boston Celtic and Ohio State great John Havlicek before today's game.... The Cavaliers are 23-19 all-time in the playoffs at home.... Anderson Varejao is averaging 7.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in 19 minutes in the past four games.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.