Nene fights through the pain to help Wizards

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Nene sets an example for younger teammates

He's still found after most games with both feet plunged deep into a bin full of ice.

It's hard to know exactly how much pain it indicates for Nene. But it hasn't been nearly enough to stop the Brazilian big man, whose almost mythical presence for the Wizards has settled into a steadying and increasingly comfortable force in the paint.

Bradley Beal's season-high 28 points were the headline as the Wizards (15-35) won their fourth game in a row and earned just their fourth victory in 25 road games at Milwaukee on Monday. But Nene's 21 points, 13 rebounds and six assists were just as crucial. His third straight double-double -- as many as he had in his first 34 games of the year -- also came in a season-high 37 minutes on the floor.

Up next
Wizards at Pistons
When » Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, Mich.
TV » CSN

While the early part of the season took a visible toll on the veteran forward/center, he's relished every moment of the team's turnaround over the last month. The Wizards have a chance to avenge consecutive losses at home and away on consecutive nights to the Pistons (20-33) in their final game before the All-Star break.

"What I can say is that's what kind of potential we have," Nene said after the Wizards soundly beat Chicago on Jan. 26. "I remember in the beginning everybody say we suck. Now we start proving a point. Now we start playing our game, have back all our players, and there is our team. Now we're going to shut up people's mouth. That's what we're going to do."

Washington's current winning streak is its longest since last April, shortly after Nene arrived from Denver. The Wizards were 7-4 with him in the lineup, including the final five games of a six-game win streak.

Nene's limited minutes on the court in his initial return this season had a similar effect, even if they didn't generate wins. He was plus-5.5 in his first four games and plus-2.8 as the Wizards went 3-11 in December. Often he was despondent afterward.

He didn't let it affect his activity level, averaging 12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He's missed four games since returning in the 10th game of the year, including once after exceeding his minutes limit in his second game back and twice on the second night of back-to-back games. Lately, he's been as quick to take a loose ball and dribble down the court for a fast break layup or dunk as he has been tough inside.

"Nene's smart," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Nene's been in the league 10 years. Nene knows little tricks of the trade. He's sly. He gives angles. He takes angles away. He's a student of the game. That's a great quality that I think a lot of our young bigs are learning. It's a trait that he can pass down to a lot of these guys."

For his part, Nene said the example he provides doesn't replace the work that his teammates are responsible for on their own.

"That part, they need to prepare themselves," Nene said. "They need to learn how to prepare, they have information about the [opposing] player. I always come early, focus on the guy I'm going to defend. I can't do that to them."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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