Wizards again struggle without Nene in loss to Pacers

November 30, 2013
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Nene Hilario #42 of the Washington Wizards goes up for a dunk against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Verizon Center on November 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
When I play we have a shot. When I don’t… (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Nine of the 11 players who played for the Wizards during their 93-73 loss to the Pacers on Friday weren’t even in the league the last time Washington won in Indiana, in April 2007. And the chances of the Wizards claiming an upset were greatly diminished without Nene, one of the four players on Washington’s roster with at least seven years of experience. He sat out Friday night’s game.

The Brazilian big man has proven to be indispensable since arriving from Denver, with the team going 7-31 without him in the lineup. The Wizards have gone 0-3 without Nene this season and they haven’t looked very competitive in their past two losses to Miami and Indiana.

“It is tough,” Trevor Ariza said. “But we have enough players in here to figure out a way. We’re all professionals. We all work on our games every day. When players go down, we’ve got to find a way.”

When the Wizards lost Ariza to a right hamstring injury, they were able to survive by relying more on Bradley Beal and Martell Webster. When Beal went down with a stress injury in his right leg, they were able to win the first two games in his absence because Ariza returned and Webster continued to make shots.

Without Nene, the team’s lack of front-court depth after him and Marcin Gortat is exposed. Nene averages 15.3 points and 6.1 rebounds but his contributions go beyond statistics. His absence has also been felt in games that he hasn’t been unable to finish. After he was ejected in Oklahoma City, the Wizards became unglued and blew a 10-point lead before losing in overtime.

“We definitely missed him, his physicality under the basket,” Gortat said. “We miss him on the rebounds, we miss him on the offense and we miss his leadership, too.”

This season, the 31-year-old Nene is averaging 33.2 minutes per game, his most in four seasons and second-highest of his career. Coach Randy Wittman has repeatedly called out the Wizards’ collection of four first-round picks — Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker — in an effort to get at least one to become a reliable rotation player.

On Friday, that quartet combined for 16 points and 13 rebounds but the bulk of that scoring came after the Pacers had already built a 25-point lead. Wittman will have to develop some production from the second unit, especially given Nene’s history of nagging injuries, increasing age and importance to the team.

“He’s a big key to our team and what we do,” Wall said.

Wittman gave Vesely the start in place of Nene, but while he did a solid job defensively against David West, he was non-existent on offense. The Pacers shut down the Wizards’ running and forced them to execute in the half court but they were often playing four-on-five with Vesely depending so much on lobs and fast-break opportunities to score. Vesely did not attempt a shot and went scoreless in 20 minutes.

Booker started the first three games of the season but appeared in just five of the next 12 games. After sitting the entire three-game win streak, Booker played well in the first half as he scored four points and four rebounds. He grabbed four more rebounds in the second half but didn’t score.

“I need to get my wind back,” Booker said. “But overall, I felt pretty good out there.”

Seraphin matched his season high with nine points against the Pacers but has taken steps backward this season. Singleton played his second game after missing the past two months with a broken foot and made his first three-pointer of the season.

Al Harrington hopes to come back soon, but he is 33 and has lost a lot of tread on his tires. With his right knee ailment, Wittman can’t overuse Harrington early in the season.

Nene was dejected as he watched the game on the sideline. He has been dealing with pain in his leg since the season opener and the schedule hasn’t been conducive to much rest and body maintenance.

Nene’s availability against the Hawks is questionable but the team is listing him at day-to-day.

“Guys that aren’t playing and wondering why they’re not playing, they’ve got to be ready,” Wittman said. “You never know when your opportunity is going to come and these are opportunities, sometimes, you let slip by when you get an opportunity to play.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · November 29, 2013