Jordan Crawford was out on the wing, preparing to take a pull-up jumper before Nene screamed at him to keep coming toward the basket. Nene quickly jumped out to seal a defender, giving Crawford enough space to drive inside for an easy, uncontested layup.
Nene had 22 points, 10 rebounds and two assists in a triumphant debut on Wednesday with the Wizards, but the statistics only tell part of how he contributed to a 108-89 victory over the New Jersey Nets.
He made the extra pass, boxed out, kept balls alive, helped put his teammates in better position to score, and had the Wizards excited about what’s in store.
“You know Nene is capable of getting 22 and 10,” Roger Mason Jr. said. “The first game, not knowing what we’re doing, I have to temper expectations a little bit. He was great on both ends of the floor. He was vocal. Some of the younger big guys could learn a lot from him. I think Nene came in right away, teaching his positioning and footwork, just little tips to the young big guys, and it really helped.”
It was easy to assume that Nene’s arrival would affect Kevin Seraphin, who averaged 11.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots in three starts as the team waited for Nene to make his debut. But Randy Wittman solved that problem by giving the duo time on the floor, as they served as bookend bangers, making it hard for the Nets to take it to the hoop.
The Wizards held the Nets to 36.9 percent shooting (31 of 84) and while blocking just five shots, they still forced the Nets into missing 22 of their 38 shots inside the paint.
Seraphin also had 12 points and two blocked shots in just 16 minutes off the bench. He had an impressive two-hand putback dunk to start the fourth quarter and even sported a nice cut across the bridge of his nose. He knew his minutes would come down, but he was elated to share the floor with a player with whom he has been compared since arriving in the NBA.
Nene referred to Seraphin as his “younger brother” and Coach Randy Wittman won’t have a problem going back to that lineup. “They give us beef. They can bang and they are still versatile. Kevin is probably as quick a guy on his feet as anybody. Nene is versatile,” Wittman said. “I like what I saw today and being able to play those guys together for the first time.”
Crawford scored a game-high 23 points in just 27 minutes, providing a spectacular fast-break dunk over Nets forward Gerald Wallace in the first half. But he credited Nene with giving him the space to create offensively.
“Nene, you give it to him the post, he make it a lot easier on you. He can score and he can find the open man, so it was good playing with him,” Crawford said. “He got a great IQ on the floor.”
Nene’s presence seemed to bring out some new energy in Wall, who was more demonstrative and excitable while reacting to accomplishments of his teammates. He hooted and howled or simply flashed a big grin after they scored. He finished with 12 points and eight assists, but felt relieved that he didn’t have to carry the team offensively.
“It was fun,” Wall said. “Nene does a great job scoring in the post and I think he makes the job easier for everybody. We can get a lot better.”
And after an emotional week in which he had to deal with departing a place he has known all to well and stepping into unfamiliar terrain, Nene still has a long way to go before he gets completely adjusted. He said after the game that he still signed his autographs by adding his old number, 31.
Wittman told Nene to rely on his instincts and his veteran knowledge to get through. Nene had no trouble following those orders.
“Basketball is simple. When you play the right way, play hard, cut hard, you make basketball easy,” Nene said. “I’m excited. This is a very athletic team. A lot of talent. Just need more experience, but we’ll be fine. I just ask for the fans to support the team. We have a new team, so let’s go Wizards.”