Nene came up limp midway through the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 victory in Cleveland as he attempted to run back on defense after a collision with Cavaliers guard Jarrett Jack. He fouled Cavaliers center Spencer Hawes to stop the action, then collapsed near the Wizards’ bench before being assisted by head athletic trainer Eric Waters.
Unable to walk, Nene hopped on one leg through a tunnel toward the Wizards’ locker room with 6 minutes 13 seconds left and with the team leading, 66-63. Nene was diagnosed with a sprained left knee and declared out for the rest of the game.
According to witnesses, Nene left Quicken Loans Arena with the assistance of crutches and needed a wheelchair to board the plane. Nene has missed seven games this season because of a troublesome right Achilles’ tendon, and the Wizards are just 1-6 without him.
“We’re hoping that he is going to be back soon,” Marcin Gortat said after the game. “We’re hoping it’s nothing too serious. Obviously, he’s going to have to take probably a few days off to make sure he’s going to be get better and get that knee right.”
Since returning from his injury on Dec. 18 in Brooklyn, Nene played in 33 consecutive games – his longest string since joining the Wizards – and appeared to be getting better and stronger with time. Nene matched his career high with 30 points and had the game-winning dunk with three-tenths of a second left in a 94-93 win against the New Orleans Pelicans.
In his 12th season, the 31-year-old Nene is averaging 14.2 points and 30.1 minutes per game – the most in three seasons. Nene was held to a 28-minute playing time restriction in his first 12 games after returning from his Achilles’ injury but it was lifted before a 102-88 win on Jan. 13 over the Chicago Bulls. He has averaged 15.7 points in 32.1 minutes in the past 21 games.
Nene had a severe right knee injury – tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, spraining his medial collateral ligament and tearing his meniscus – in the 2005-06 season opener for the Denver Nuggets. He came back the next season, but only played 16 games in 2007-08 after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. The next three seasons, Nene averaged 78 games played, including one season in which he played all 82 games.
Plantar fasciitis contributed to Nene missing 35 games in his first 1½ seasons with in Washington. The Wizards have gone 8-34 without Nene in the lineup. This season, the Wizards are 21-16 when Nene starts.
The Wizards sacrificed some of their front depth at the trade deadline deal, using former lottery pick Jan Vesely to acquire Andre Miller from Denver. Washington has a roster spot available to possibly add another big man, and teams have until March 1 to acquire a player who can be eligible for the postseason.
After the win over Cleveland, the Wizards (28-28) pushed their record back to .500 for the ninth time this season and rank fifth in the Eastern Conference. They have already had one scary-looking knee injury with Bradley Beal falling and unable to walk on his own power after a knee collision in Minnesota. Beal was able to play the next day after being diagnosed with a knee bruise.