Nene scooped up the loose ball and started dribbling and dribbling, with no apparent plan in mind. As he bounced up the court, dreadlocks bouncing all the way, there was the potential for a JaValean ending.
The Wizards were clinging to a one-point lead over Portland with less than 90 seconds remaining and John Wall was trailing the play, but Nene wasn’t ready to slow down and run another play after the offense had gone stagnant on the previous possession.
Martell Webster and Jordan Crawford sprinted out ahead, and when he spotted Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard leaving to double-team the red-hot Crawford, Nene dropped a beautiful bounce pass to Webster for a two-handed dunk.
“It was a last resort. He fed it, and I got a dunk,” Webster said with a smile afterward. “We have a chemistry. He sees me.”
Crawford’s 13-point fourth-quarter and his buzzer-beating three-pointer stole the headlines after the Wizards’ 98-95 win, but the Nene-Webster connection was critical, as the starting forwards combined for 48 points and 11 assists.
Nene had five assists against Portland and four of them were to Webster; three led to dunks, the other was a three-pointer. Webster had a team-high six assists in the win, feeding Nene for an alley-oop layup in the first quarter.
The Wizards (9-30) started the game by working the ball inside to Nene, who had easily his most productive first quarter of the season. Nene made his first six shots – and 8 of 9 overall – and scored 17 of the Wizards’ first 27 points.
Emeka Okafor said the Wizards “pretty much rode him.” After making a layup inside, Nene was feeling so good that he headed the ball, soccer style, to an official.
“I try and imitate my brother [Trail Blazers all-star forward] LaMarcus Aldridge and I just try to play like him, with that jump shot,” Nene said with a laugh after scoring a season-high 24 points.
Nene only made one field goal in the fourth quarter, making a swooping hook shot in the lane to end a nearly three-minute field goal drought. “Nene gave us a huge game inside,” Coach Randy Wittman said.
Webster served as the outside complement with the Wizards getting little production from their other perimeter players through the first three quarters. Nene didn’t have a memorable performance in his first game back in Denver but Webster was at his best in his return to Portland, where he spent his first five seasons.
Webster scored a season-high 24 points – his second 20-point game this month – bouncing back from a difficult outing in Los Angeles, where he scored just three points and missed 6 of 7 shots.
“I knew he’d be ready,” Wittman said. “Coming home and playing. All of those things combined. Martell doesn’t let those things bother him, from the standpoint of having a bad game and not letting that linger over.”
Before the game, Webster shook hands and reflected with some friends and admirers. He was introduced last and received a loud ovation from Trail Blazers fans. Webster then matched his season high with four three-pointers and also scored a season-high 24 points, but he downplayed the significance of playing in his former home.
“It’s another game – another game in the win column,” Webster said. “I don’t really look at it individually. All I know is, from an individual standpoint, I just wanted to come out and have a sense of urgency and be focused. We’re still fighting for something here and we still believe in each other, and that’s all that matters.”
Nene certainly had the confidence to look for Webster with the game on the line.
“Trying to get the win,” Nene said. “That’s all.”
MUCH, MUCH MORE
— Mike Wise: Wizards building up some momentum.