CHICAGO – For the first time since Feb. 23, Nene will start at power forward as the Wizards take on the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series. With Nene in the starting lineup, the Wizards are 21-16, including two January victories against the Bulls.
“Without him, his intangibles are hard to replace,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Basketball IQ, defending, knowing how to play, smarts, those are things, when he’s not with us. those are hard to have somebody step in and do the same type of thing. He’s a big part of our success.”
Nene returned to play four out of the final five regular season games after missing the previous 22 with a sprained ligament in his left knee. He worked diligently to get back in time to return to the postseason after being sidelined the previous two years in Washington. Before the game, Nene said he expects to have the same emotions he had when he made his playoff debut with the Nuggets in 2004.
“Everybody feel nerves, excited, butterfly in the stomach,” Nene said. “But the good thing is, when you prepare yourself at the beginning of the day, as soon as you wake up, you know things will be fine.”
John Wall and Bradley Beal are making their playoff debuts in Chicago and both expected to be a little fired up before Game 1. Wall said the experience will probably be like his first college game at Kentucky.
“You’re going to be too hype,” Wall said. “The main thing is to go in there and not let your adrenaline take you too far overboard, but you’ll definitely be anxious and nervous and super-excited to be out there, with everything that’s going on. It’s another regular season game for me, but it’s more important, it’s more on the line. This is what you play for. I’m acting like it’s a regular game.”
Beal said he planned to relax by visualizing how the game will play out in his mind. “I think every player should do that, whenever you’re in a situation like that, it’s such a big game with a lot of hype to it,” Beal said. “You should visualize and it helps you calm down a bit.”
And, yes, Beal already sees his first shot going in. A three-pointer? A long jumper? “Layup. Got to start out easy,” Beal said with a laugh.
Wittman said he liked the attitude of his players entering the game and responded defiantly when asked if his team was the underdog. “No. I think we’re capable, as we’ve proven all year, we can beat anybody. It’s just a matter, you’ve got to play the games. whether you think I’m an underdog or you think I’m an underdog. It doesn’t make any difference when you go out on the floor. You’ve got to win four games and that’s our attitude. To go out here and win four games.”
(TV: TNT, Comcast SportsNet. Radio: WJFK-106.7 MF, WFED-1500 AM).
Here’s some reading to get you ready for tonight’s game: