Wizards increase Nene’s minutes in preparation for playoffs


More minutes, more defense (Associated Press)

Pick a number, any number on the boxscore from the Washington Wizards‘ 114-93 rout of Miami on Monday and you’ll likely come away impressed.

-Fifty-nine percent shooting from the field, marking their second-best clip of the season.

-Fourteen three-pointers, matching the number of threes made by the Wizards in their previous four games combined.

-Forty-three second-quarter points on 15-for-16 shooting, making for Washington’s second 43-point quarter against the Heat this season.

But perhaps the most telling stat as the Wizards prepare to return to the postseason for the first time in six years is 24. That’s the number of minutes logged by Nene off the bench and it’s the most floor action he’s seen since returning four games ago from a knee injury that sidelined him for six weeks.

The extra time allowed Nene to rack up 18 points and four rebounds on 8-for-12 shooting, including consecutive three-point plays on strong moves to the basket. But it also surpassed the 16-20 minute limit that Nene had discussed with the doctors and coaches in an effort to ease his way back into shape.

“That did surprise me a little bit; five extra minutes, but it’s fine,” Nene said with a smile. “I’m looking good but I hope we stick with the minutes we’d had talked [about] because if I push myself too much, I can pay the price, so I hope we can stick with my minutes a little bit.”

With the Wizards leading by as many as 36 points in the second half, there was no real need for Nene to be out on the floor with the other reserves. And as fellow Washington post player Marcin Gortat pointed out, with LeBron James and Chris Bosh sitting out Monday’s game, some of Washington’s offensive proficiency was to be expected.

“It was more like a scrimmage,” Gortat said. “[Nene’s] big and I don’t think they had anybody out there who could hold him. Obviously he’s playing against the bench players from the other team, so he was just abusing them. He’s physically too big, too talented.”

But with Wednesday’s game at Boston marking the close of the regular season and the playoffs getting underway this weekend, it may be sooner than later that Nene will need to go full throttle to increase the Wizards’ postseason chances.

Nene’s impact is undeniable. With Nene in the starting lineup, Washington has gone 21-16, and since he returned on April 9, the Wizards have gone 2-1 in games he came off the bench.  When Nene is on the floor, Washington’s points allowed per 100 possessions drops from 102.6 to 99.4, thanks to his big-bodied presence, shot-blocking ability and defensive rebounding.

“[It’s] important for us to continue to get his rhythm, wind, all that going in a good direction,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We got one more game for him to get his legs better before the playoffs.”

Based on the tone of Wittman’s comments, one would think he has hopes of inserting Nene back into the starting lineup for the playoffs. But with Trevor Booker averaging 9.9 points on 63.6 percent shooting from the field in the month of April, the Wizards could elect to maintain their current setup with Nene as the first player off the bench. Whatever the case, Nene just wants to be ready.

“Tired … sore … that’s the way I’m going to feel,” Nene said. “It’s a good thing I try to push myself, try to help the team and I’m in the right direction. I want to take advantage of this last game and see what I can do.”

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.

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Michael Lee · April 15, 2014

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