Nene hadn’t grabbed 10 rebounds in a game all season, or scored at least 10 points in five games, but he wasn’t celebrating his first double-double of the season on Tuesday in the visitor’s locker room at New Orleans Arena.
“I don’t care about that. I care about wins,” Nene said, with his feet buried in a tub of ice after the Wizards claimed their first road win of the season, 77-70, over the New Orleans Hornets.
Now comes the hard part for Nene, who will play his second set of back-to-back games this season as the Wizards (3-15) take on Houston on Wednesday at Toyota Center.
Nene had eight points and three rebounds last Friday in Atlanta, then had nine points, six rebounds, and three assists the next night against Golden State.
“It’s crazy. The last back to back I couldn’t jump,” Nene said. Against New Orleans, “I could jump a little bit. I don’t know how I’m going to be [in Houston]. I just try to play hard and be positive. It’s crazy you know, the situation.”
Nene didn’t play the most elegant game in New Orleans. Early on, he grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled the length of the court, ignored his teammates and threw up an awkward shot that missed badly, in a play that could easily be defined as JaValean. But he also appeared to relish in breaking up lobs for Hornets No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis by bumping him to the ground.
After Nene broke up one lob in the fourth quarter, Davis landed hard on his back, looked around for a foul and found no sympathy from his coach, Monty Williams, who yelled, “Get up!” Nene was already down the floor, waiting to run a play.
Lumbering and laboring through a 20-minute stint, Nene missed his first five shots, but made his last three, including a powerful one-handed dunk that tied the game at 56 and a streaking, fast-break layup that put the Wizards ahead, 73-67, with 2 minutes 54 seconds remaining. He then helped hold the Hornets to just three points the rest of the way.
“We’re still working him in,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “His legs aren’t where they need to be. His lift around the rim, it’s not Nene’s lift. But it’s a process. A process, he’s got to keep staying with. Keep building up the minutes and practice and once you get that stamina and getting that strength back in your legs, the explosion back in your legs, that he doesn’t have right now. But he’s still such a factor on the floor for us. Defensively, as well as offensively.”
The Wizards are 3-6 in games that Nene has played since returning from plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Nene sat out one game — a 118-92 loss to San Antonio — with soreness in his foot and he says that he continues to play hurt, without offering a percentage for how far he is from being at full strength.
“It’s hard to say my condition right now. I have to pick it up and see how my foot feels the next day,” Nene said. “Sometimes it feels really bad. Sometimes I sit down and the coach needs to do the game plan for me and it’s going to be a two weeks, back to back, it’s gonna be fun to see that.”
The Wizards next seven games will all be part of back-to-back sets. They have the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat on Friday and Saturday. Next week, they will have another stretch of four games in five nights, with Atlanta and Orlando, then Detroit and Cleveland.
With just two of those teams having winning records, the Wizards will have an opportunity to gain some traction. Nene is just hoping that he’ll be able to keep up.
“It’s a hard process in my career. It’s a really hard situation I’ve been through,” Nene said. “I know God put me here for something. I just try to think, work hard for the next day. Right now what I can do, what I can control is to put ice on my foot on my knee and try to feel better from the cold. To be in shape. It takes time to be in game shape, game mentality, game quickness. For me right now, it’s like training camp.”