Nene exited the locker room Tuesday afternoon, walking down the hallway with the assistance of crutches, greeting people with fist pounds and flashing a huge grin. Sidelined until at least early April because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, Nene shared some encouragement with teammates while watching the Wizards go 3-1 since he hobbled off the court last month in Cleveland.
“He just texted us after all the games in this winning streak and said, ‘Congratulations, keep playing the right way,’ ” said John Wall. “It was just great to see him here, having a smile on his face and he’s not down. It’s something he knows he don’t want to deal with but he has to deal with, just staying positive and being around the guys.”
In 11 games without Nene, the Wizards (31-29) have won just four. But they have taken advantage of a relatively week schedule and have gotten huge performances from Wall, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza to maintain a high level of play in his absence. They handled Orlando and Philadelphia with ease, won a war of attrition in Toronto, and simply lost to a better team when the Memphis Grizzlies beat them for the second time.
“He send us a message after the Philly game that said, ‘Great stuff guys. Night, night.’ It’s okay. It’s Nene. We miss him,” Gortat said. “I had a little chat with him. His knee looks really actually. We hoping he’s going to come back soon, stronger than before and he’s going to help us on the main run. Right now, we know we’re going to be without him for the next few games and we have to perform. We’ve got to play hard.”
Gortat has averaged 20.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots in the past four games and posted a career-high 31 points in the Wizards’ triple overtime win in Toronto. After struggling offensively in the first two games starting in place of Nene, Trevor Booker has averaged 14.5 points in the past two games. Booker has grabbed seven rebounds in each of the past four games. The Wizards started the season 0-3 with the Booker in the starting lineup but have gone 10-10 since then.
“It’s tough,” Wall said. “Nene was finding strides and I think the team was playing the right way, playing together, as a group, as one. Certain things happen throughout the course of a season that you have to deal with and this is a great opportunity. Any given night any guy can lead us in scoring. It’s a big time for guys to step up and have a big role. It’s something guys have got to accept and got to deal with. We know what our goal is, to be in the playoffs, and fight for that third of fourth seed and we’ve got to keep fighting.”
The Wizards also have had to maintain with Kevin Seraphin sidelined with swelling his right knee. Serpahin will miss his fifth consecutive game on Wednesday, when the Wizards host the Utah Jazz.
After practice, Seraphin was not interested in discussing the condition of his knee but, when pressed, said he doesn’t expect the injury to require surgery. He continues to be listed as day-to-day.
Martell Webster also didn’t participate in contact drills because of a sore back that forced him to sit against Memphis. The Wizards have lost two of the three games that Webster missed. They lost to Denver when he sat with a sprained left ankle and beat Phoenix with was out with the flu. But he was able to move through five-on-none sets and took some shots by himself after practice.
“A step forward,” Wittman said of Webster. “So we’ll see. Martell has got a chance.”
Webster’s injury created an opportunity for rookie Otto Porter Jr. to play and Wall was impressed with how he responded by making two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards chopped a 19-point deficit down to two.
“Any guy we put in the situation, they are being professional about it, of not having the opportunity to play for months. Not have the opportunity just to get a shot out there to take a shot,” Wall said. “Playing 30 to 15 seconds, that gets frustrating when you’re a guy that maybe was a star or used to starting, those guys come in do a great job of coming in, staying prepared.”