Drew Gooden III has played for 10 teams over his 13 years in the NBA, so when Wizards Coach Randy Wittman turned to him Saturday night in Milwaukee with Washington’s front court suddenly shorthanded, the fact that he hadn’t played in more than two weeks didn’t give him a moment’s pause.
“I did what I was supposed to do,” said the 33-year-old Gooden, who provided a spark withfour points in nine minutes after Nene left with a right foot injury. “Nene goes out, I have my teammates’ back. I go in, provide energy, and secure that lead and try to push that lead.”
Gooden will be needed again this week. Nene missed practice Monday and visited a doctor for an evaluation of his right plantar fascia. Wittman, however, is optimistic and said Nene will not miss more than “a game or two.”
The Wizards (9-3) host the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night before traveling to Cleveland for a rematch against the slumping Cavaliers on Thanksgiving eve.
“Just a precautionary thing,” Wittman said of Nene’s doctor visit. “He had some soreness. I think it’s day-to-day with that, but again, we want to make everything’s okay .”
Nene has played a full 82-game season just once in his career — for the Denver Nuggets in 2009-10 — and his dedication to Brazil in international competition has increased the mileage on his 32-year-old body.
The Wizards’ offseason moves reflected their concerns about Nene’s durability. They re-signed center Marcin Gortat, Kevin Seraphin and Gooden, and replaced forwards Trevor Booker and Al Harrington with Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair . The fortification was designed to avoid the uneasiness experienced the last time Nene went down with an injury.
When Nene had a sprained left medial collateral ligament diagnosed in late February, the Wizards were 28-28 and lacked options. Nene was expected to be out six weeks, and their lone trusted backup, Booker, was dealing with an injury. As was the inconsistent Seraphin.
Now the Wizards boast a surplus of capable big men. Before Nene’s injury, Wittman had settled on a rotation that didn’t even include Gooden or Blair, an undersized rebounding specialist acquired in a sign-and-trade pact with the Dallas Mavericks. Blair has logged just 11 minutes in three games and hasn’t played since a five-minute cameo against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 7.
Paul Pierce, who has started the Wizards’ first 12 games at small forward, played some power forward for the first time this season in Saturday’s win, finishing with a season-high 25 points and 10 rebounds.
“We’re a deep team. We work,” Gooden said. “One thing we do is work. Even the guys that’s not playing.”
Pierce’s ability to stretch the floor grants point guard John Wall more real estate to penetrate defenses, and he could see more time in the role until Nene returns. Gooden also provides an outside shooting threat and is the likely replacement for Nene in the starting lineup. He was Wittman’s choice in the season opener against the Miami Heat, which Nene missed due to a one-game suspension, and tallied 18 points.
And he’ll be ready again if needed.
“That’s part of being a professional,” Wittman said. “That’s what it is when you got a number of guys with the ability to play. You just got to continue to work and when an opportunity comes, arises, be ready, and he was. That’s the luxury of trying to do what we have there with guys that stay ready. [We] can’t play six bigs, but you’re going to have an opportunity at some point.”
Wizards note: Otto Porter Jr., who didn’t play Saturday with hamstring tightness, was a full participant at practice Monday and will be a game-time decision against the Hawks. “It’s one of those injuries you have to see how he responds,” Wittman said. “He went hard today, though. As long as there’s no soreness after the workout today, he’ll probably be a go.”