Kevin Seraphin hopes Nene's words can lift him out of slump


Kevin Seraphin is averaging career-highs of 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds, but he wants to play better and has taken the losses especially hard now that he has a prominent role on the team. (Toni L. Sandys/THE WASHINGTON POST)
December 27, 2012

Ever since the Washington Wizards acquired Nene from Denver, Kevin Seraphin has sought out the veteran big man after games and practices for wisdom and advice.

The conversations range from how to defend the pick-and-roll, to tips on footwear and even hairstyles. Nene dishes, Seraphin listens.

When Seraphin twisted his hair into a dreadlock starter kit earlier this month, the long-haired Nene suggested that his young pupil try a different look.

“Nene don’t want anybody but him to have hair on his head,” Seraphin explained when he showed up a week later with a shaved head.

Overhearing Seraphin complain, Nene joked, “Looks good, no?”

Seraphin and Nene share a bond as deep as their South American roots. But after the Wizards lost their eighth straight game on Wednesday — an 87-84 defeat against the Cleveland Cavaliers — big brother Nene summoned little brother Seraphin over to his locker-room stall for a discussion that took on a much different tone than the others.

“He was really mad at me,” Seraphin said Thursday, as the Wizards prepared to host the Orlando Magic on Friday night at Verizon Center. “He told me straight up, I’m supposed to be ready for the game. I’m supposed to play good. He said, ‘Maybe if you was playing good, maybe we got more chance to win the game.’ ”

Nene has grown increasingly frustrated with the direction the team has taken in recent weeks, and he hasn’t hidden his disappointment as he continues to play limited minutes because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. In just 26 minutes against Cleveland, Nene had 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. The Wizards outscored the Cavaliers by 25 points while the center was on the floor .

Seraphin, who has been in and out of the starting lineup and now backs up Nene, had almost the opposite effect on the game. He had four points and no rebounds and the Wizards were outscored by 15 points in his 12 minutes on the floor.

“He’s got to just slow down number one and relax and play,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Seraphin. “We are still limited with minutes on Nene. I can’t play him like I normally would play a guy like him. So we’ve got to have other guys make up for that. Be a positive on the floor.”

Seraphin had a promising start to the season, scoring in double figures in 11 of his first 15 games. Yet he has scored 10 or more points in only two of his past nine games. But after making 8 of 14 shots and scoring 16 points in a 102-96 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Seraphin has regressed considerably in the past six games, averaging just six points on 32.7 percent (18 of 55) shooting.

“I just try to play hard and my shot doesn’t go through. I just miss,” Seraphin said, when asked to explain his slump.

Teams are gearing up to slow down Seraphin, who finished strongly after the Wizards dealt JaVale McGee to Denver — he scored at least 10 points in 22 of the final 25 games last season. Seraphin said that when he got the ball inside against Cleveland, he received a triple team.

Wittman has urged Seraphin to use his imposing, 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame to attack the opposition inside, rather than only taking floaters and hook shots. Seraphin has attempted just 19 free throws this season and missed his only two attempts in the past six games.

In contrast, Nene has attempted 87 free throws in 14 games — an average of 6.2 per game. Seraphin has not attempted more than four free throws in a game this season.

“With a body like that and his quickness and strength,” Wittman said, shaking his head. “I mean, Nene’s played, I think, 400 less minutes and has taken a million more free throws than him.

“Kevin right now is just content with avoiding contact and we’re trying to teach him, especially in a crowd, to pump fake, pump fake, and get a guy in the air and try to score. If not, you get two free throws.”

Seraphin is averaging career highs of 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds, but he wants to play better and has taken the losses especially hard now that he has a prominent role on the team. He bypassed celebrating his 23rd birthday three weeks ago with the Wizards (3-23) seemingly nailed to the bottom of the NBA standings.

“Everybody ask me, when I will party? I just say, ‘Not this year.’ Because right now, I just try to be focused on my season because that’s really important. Even if I party to make my birthday like we win every game, that means I don’t care about the record and so, I’m cool,” Seraphin said. “I want to do some big things in this game. So for that to start, we have to win the game first.”

Seraphin also has taken the words from his mentor, Nene, to heart.

“He told me how he feel and I just respect that. If you want to be better, you have to listen to the veterans,” Seraphin said. “Me and Nene are the same type of player, so right now, he know what he’s talking about, he’s been 11 years in the league and I just try to listen to him. Keep telling him, ‘I will. I heard you.’ ”

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