Wizards’ Nene has sprained MCL, will miss six weeks

Washington Wizards forward Nene (42), of Brazil, dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards won 94-93. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington Wizards forward Nene (42), of Brazil, dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards won 94-93. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Wizards dodged the worst-case scenario as it relates to Nene’s left knee on Monday but their postseason pursuits in Eastern Conference were damaged when an MRI exam revealed that the Brazilian big man has a sprained medial collateral ligament.

Nene will miss approximately six weeks, according to a statement released by the team, and could possibly return for the final week of the regular season.  He was injured in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday and left Quicken Loans Arena with the assistance of crutches.

The Wizards feared that Nene had suffered a ligament tear, which would’ve cost him this season and possibly part of next season. Nene is averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game to help the Wizards to a 28-28 record and fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Though the injury is not season-ending, it will keep him sidelined for significant time and the team has struggled in the past in his absence. Nene dealt with an Achilles’ tendon injury early in the season and the Wizards went 1-6 without him. He had played in 33 consecutive games before going down in Cleveland.

In his two years with the Wizards, Nene has been the team’s most indispensable player not named John Wall. It has gone 8-34 when Nene is not in the lineup. With him in the starting lineup, the Wizards are 21-16 this season.

The Wizards have had some bad breaks with big men since last September when Emeka Okafor had a herniated disk in his neck diagnosed. They were able to package Okafor’s expiring contract with a draft pick to pry Marcin Gortat from Phoenix. Gortat formed a solid front-court tandem with Nene and has led the Wizards in rebounds (8.9) and blocked shots (1.5) per game. Now the only player on the roster taller than 6 feet 10, the 30-year-old Gortat will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, when his services should be in high demand in a league lacking quality centers.

The timing of Nene’s injury is unfortunate because it comes a few days after the Wizards sacrificed Jan Vesely to acquire veteran backup point guard Andre Miller at the trade deadline.  They have a roster spot available after sending Eric Maynor to Philadelphia in the three-team deal but few quality big man options remain in free agency and the NBA Development League.

The Wizards will host the Orlando Magic on Tuesday. Trevor Booker or Kevin Seraphin will likely start in place of Nene while he is sidelined.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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