Wizards have bonds starting to form as winning continues
By Michael Lee,
The night before he bailed out the Washington Wizards with a beautiful, twisting layup with a half-second remaining in an 86-84 victory over in Miami, Nene bought dinner for a few of his teammates at a Brazilian steakhouse.
Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Brian Cook, James Singleton and Cartier Martin all gathered around the table as waiters walked by with knives and skewers, serving up meat until they flashed a red card to stop.
“That is what good teams do, like San Antonio,” Nene said. “Everybody’s together, they have a good atmosphere. Good teams, they stick together.”
Nene has been limited to eight games since being acquired from Denver at the trade deadline, but he was determined to come back from plantar fasciitis in his left foot before the season ended to have moments like Saturday night, when he and John Wall offered a possible glimpse of what’s in store for next season.
Wall assisted on the final nine baskets against the Heat, including four dishes to Nene, who scored each time. Nene also provided a stabilizing presence on both ends, as he recorded a blocked shot on a Mike Miller layup in the final minute.
“The more they play, the better,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Wall and Nene. “They’ll get a feel for each other. I think it’s a really good combination.”
The Wizards (17-46) are 4-4 with Nene in the lineup, including the past two games, and they have won five of their past seven games overall, with victories over playoff-bound Chicago, Miami and Orlando. They also crushed Milwaukee’s playoff hopes last week.
“Everybody is just clicking right now,” Jordan Crawford said. “Everybody is lifting each other up and getting victories out of it. I think we just playing good at this time. We got Nene back. We picked up a lot of great players that complement us well. I think for the first time, you’re really getting to see how good we can be.”
When Crawford mentioned three weeks ago, following a loss to Milwaukee, that he wanted the Wizards to finish with 20 victories, it seemed as if it would be an extremely lofty goal. At the time, the Wizards had 12 wins and needed to win eight of their last 13 games — when it took the team 36 games to win its first eight.
But as the Wizards approach their final three games, Crawford’s target is well within reach. They will close the season at home on Monday against the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats, on the road against the lottery-bound Cleveland Cavaliers and in the home finale against a Miami team that will likely rest LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in preparation of its first-round playoff series.
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra probably wishes he had sat the trio on Saturday, and not just James and Bosh, after Wade dislocated his left index finger less than three minutes into the Wizards’ 87-84 win. The victory established Washington as the only team in the NBA this season to have road wins over the Bulls and Heat, the two top seeds in the Eastern Conference, though they obviously benefited from not facing those team’s all-star talents in either contest.
“As long as we’re competing, no excuses,” Wall said.
The Wizards can’t allow themselves to dismiss any win at this point, since they still have a strong chance of finishing the season with the second-worst record in the NBA — 19.9 percent odds of winning the No. 1 overall in the NBA draft lottery — even if they win out.
New Orleans entered Sunday’s game with 20 wins and would keep the Wizards at their current spot with one more victory. If the Wizards finish tied with the same record with any team, each team will receive an average number of lottery combinations for the positions they occupy, with a coin flip determining which team receives the extra combination(s).
But the Wizards players don’t appear to be overly concerned with lottery positioning, especially with Nene coming back and several players discussing a possible winning streak to close out the season in the Heat’s visitor’s locker room after the win in Miami. “I’m very excited,” Wall said of having the chance to finish out the season with the Nene. “He’s just a big man who knows where to be. He knows the spots. He just makes it easier for you.”
A victory over the Bobcats would give the Wizards their first four-game sweep of any opponent in two years — they claimed four wins over the 12-win New Jersey Nets in 2009-10 — and their first four-game winning streak since Dec. 7-15, 2007. If they sweep the last three games, the Wizards would also win six in a row for the first time since Nov. 11-21, 2007. Eight members of their 12-man active roster weren’t even in the NBA back then. Wall was a junior in high school.
The late-season success has helped the team form better chemistry, as the locker room has been filled with jokes and laughter of late, rather than a rush to leave. A few Wizards, including Wall, Crawford, Booker and Jan Vesely, even attended the Capitals playoff game on Sunday. Nene expects more team-building activities will come next season.
“That’s the reason we’re back to play these games, because I need to know my teammates a little bit more,” Nene said. “Next time, I need to bring all the team to a Brazilian restaurant.”