Two days after his first appearance of the season for the Wizards (0-10), Nene sat on the side at the end of practice on the side court at Verizon Center with ice wrapped around his left quadriceps, his right knee and on the floor underneath his left foot.
“Nothing change,” Nene said once he had retreated from the court. “Now I have news: my quads are sore.”
But the Brazilian big man did practice, and Wizards coach Randy Wittman said he was good, a positive sign for a player who prior to Wednesday hadn’t participated in a full five-on-five game since Brazil had lost to Argentina in the Olympic quarterfinals on Aug. 8.
Nene finished with 12 points, one rebound, one block and one steal in the Wizards’ heartbreaking 101-100 overtime loss at Atlanta. But his presence was as much talismanic as it was simply a domino that led to a number of positives as Washington came as close as it has all season to getting its first victory.
“He was huge,” Wizards point guard A.J. Price said. “Regardless of his stats, he was huge, just his presence on the floor alone gave us a confidence, it’s almost like a newfound confidence for me with my first time playing with him. It’s a confidence that I don’t think we had at all this year, and you could feel the difference on the court.”
Nene opened up the space inside offensively for both Kevin Seraphin (21 points, 10 rebound) and Emeka Okafor while his size and agility improved the Wizards’ defense, too.
But even when he wasn’t on the floor – he didn’t play at all during overtime – the Wizards still played like they hadn’t in crunch time all season. Price had 14 points and seven assists in his first game of the season off the bench, and similarly, Trevor Ariza had 12 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and three steals after also being shuffled around from his starting spot on the wing.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Nene,” Price said. “Just by him being out there, I really felt us as a team have more confidence. I think it just carried over to the end of the game. We were playing hard still, but we still didn’t execute at the end of the game the way we should’ve and, that’s on us.”
Wittman said there were two instances down the stretch where the Wizards ran a play on the wrong side of the court before Seraphin’s open jumper momentarily looked to be the game winner. And then there was also the failure to pull down Al Horford’s missed free throws, twice.
“We’ve got to learn to win games down the stretch,” Wittman said, though he emphasized that his staff hasn’t belabored the point.
He also said that Nene’s minutes on the floor – 19 minutes, 43 seconds, to be exact – were barely short of the maximum 20 minutes that the Wizards had allotted.
“I probably should’ve put him in there for the [overtime] jump ball and then taken him out,” Wittman joked. “It’s hard, with the impact that he has on the team and how he helps the other players, especially from an offensive standpoint. We’ve got to be smart, too.”
Weighed down by the ice on Friday, Nene still offered up advice to Bradley Beal after the rookie looked frustrated after failing to finish a driving layup on the final play in a full court scrimmage.
“It’s good,” Nene said. “What I can say is I’m going to do everything to help my team. I going to give my best, leave my best on the court. When I do that, I know inside I feel OK. Now we need to win. When we start to win, I going to start to feel great.”
The winless Wizards – whose margin defeat is 7.0 points per game, well ahead of the second-best among 13 teams in history that have started the season 0-10 – have a little extra motivation when they next take the court on Saturday.
The Bobcats (6-4) are the only team to have a truly decisive victory over Washington this season, a 92-76 win in Charlotte on Nov. 13. They also play Friday night while the Wizards get one more day to let their Thanksgiving meals wear off.
Wittman, who hasn’t settled on whether he’ll continue with the same starting lineup from the Hawks game (Shaun Livingston, Beal, Jordan Crawford, Jan Vesely and Seraphin), ended practice with an emphatic reminder: “We owe them.”
*Trevor Booker (right knee strain) did not practice.