JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Washington Wizards have made no secret of their desire to establish a rugged identity. The attitude was on full display Monday when they engaged in a physical contest with the Chicago Bulls that included a couple scuffles.
The physical play did not result in anything more than some fouls and intensity Monday. But on Wednesday, the NBA delivered a blow to the Wizards.
The league suspended Nene, DeJuan Blair, Daniel Orton and Xavier Silas one regular season game each for leaving the Wizards’ bench during the first quarter of their win Monday night.
The four players committed the rules violation when Wizards forward Paul Pierce and Bulls center Joakim Noah scuffled in front of the Bulls’ bench three minutes into the contest. Pierce and Noah were fined $15,000 each for the tussle that saw Noah initiate the physical contact and Pierce poke Noah in the face. No Bulls players were suspended because none of them left their designated area.
The suspensions will take effect the first game the players are eligible and physically able to play. That likely means Nene, the team’s projected starting power forward, and Blair, a key backup big man, will be unavailable for the season opener at Miami on Oct. 29.
“It is what it is,” Coach Randy Wittman said before a 94-89 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. “There’s rules in place, and it’s a situation that we came off the bench and we got to learn from it.”
Orton and Silas are long shots to make the roster, but they will serve the suspension whenever they’re eligible.
Nene’s involvement in the first-quarter altercation Monday was his only on-court cameo because he sat out to rest. Instead, he made his preseason debut Wednesday and contributed 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting in 15 minutes.
“It was good cardio,” Nene said. “It was good to get back playing in an NBA game, and it was very smooth.”
Led by Otto Porter Jr.’s eight fourth-quarter points, the Wizards erased a seven-point deficit in the final quarter and finished on a 21-9 run. John Wall led the Wizards with 14 points but committed nine of the team’s 19 turnovers. Porter finished with 12 points off the bench, and Bradley Beal and Kevin Seraphin each added 11 as the Wizards held the Pelicans to 36.2 percent shooting. Drew Gooden III, who did not play Monday, was held out again because of a mild left hamstring strain.
“We did a great job getting the stops,” Wall said. “The main thing is getting our turnovers down and running our half-court sets a little better.”
Another factor in the high turnover rate, Wall explained, was the Wizards have not incorporated plays for post players yet and the guards forced passes to their big men to get them involved. But Nene did not have trouble procuring the ball in the second quarter, when he recorded eight straight points with the second unit.
The light playing time is part of his preseason strategy for the Brazilian. He is already in game shape, having played for his country’s national team at the FIBA World Cup this summer, and he has battled various leg injuries in recent seasons. He expects to play in “four or five” preseason games solely to help build chemistry.
“It’s very important to play a little bit and to know each other a little bit more before the season starts,” Nene said. “That’s what’s important to me this preseason.”
Nene was not healthy a year ago. He said he felt “fresh” when training camp started last fall, but he dealt with soreness in his knees and feet throughout the preseason. He played in the team’s season opener but was sidelined the next two games. A sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee sidelined him for six weeks in February, and he appeared in only 53 games.
The Wizards addressed their front-court depth during the offseason by signing Kris Humphries and Blair, two established veterans, but they are counting on Nene, who averaged 14.2 points on 50.3 percent shooting last season, to play in more than 61 games for the first time since 2010-11.