When it comes to Nene playing in a game, especially those outside of his duties with the Washington Wizards, all observers are focused on one thing: Did he remain in one piece?
The big man is four exhibition games into his international commitment with the the Brazilian national team heading into the World Cup of Basketball. So far, so good, but the real grind is coming up.
After losing to Team USA on Aug. 16, Brazil took off for three games in Slovenia. On Thursday they let a late lead slip away and lost 64-61 to Lithuania despite 13 points and five rebounds from Nene, who missed 29 games this past season for the Wizards with various knee and foot injuries.
The next night Washington's power forward went for 8-and-3 in an overtime win over the host country. In Saturday's finale, Brazil ran away from Iran for a 40-point win as Nene had 10 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Since the box score information is limited, we're not sure how minutes Nene played, but the calendar tells us that's three games in three days. The non-stop action will continue once the World Cup tips off in Spain. Starting Aug. 30 versus France, Brazil will play three games in three days and five in six by the time group play is over. Brazil could play as many as nine games with a run to the championship.
While the Team USA has the depth and overall talent to rest point guard Derrick Rose's surgically repaired knee, Brazil will need full force Nene to survive and advance. Granted, NBA players Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter are also part of the interior rotation, but the Wizards' big man is the best of the bunch and those three are the clear best players on the roster except for those games where Leandro Barbosa goes off.
Team USA is a favorite to reach the World Cup finals, not to mention win it all. Beyond the obvious loaded roster, part of the favorite status stems from the cake walk draw from the group play all the way to the championship games. Brazil is not as fortunate.
The opener pits Nene and crew against NBA talents Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Evan Founier and Rudy Gobert and Ian Mahinmi. That's a ton of size, though nothing like what their third opponent offers.
Playing what will be his third game in three days, Nene faces Spain's frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Paul Gasol and Serge Ibaka not to mention a loaded backcourt with Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez and everyone's favorite never-a-Wizard Juan Carlos Navarro. After a day off, Brazil faces Serbia, another formidable opponent.
The Wizards loaded up on size this offseason by adding Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. That's on top of retaining reserves Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin. Every frontcourt needs depth, but that's especially true in Washington. Nene has missed 50 games combined over the last two seasons. That includes 21 during the 2012-13 campaign, which came after the Brazilian big man suffered a foot injury during the summer Olympics.
By the way, the World Cup championship game takes place on Sept. 14, one day after Nene's 32nd birthday.