After sitting out Saturday's game at Miami, the Wizards fourth in five days, Nene practiced on Monday and will play Tuesday night when Atlanta visits the Verizon Center. Even though the Brazilian big man has been practicing and playing for a month - the equivalent of an actual training camp - his minutes have remained limited. With the matchup against the Hawks representing the start of another four games in five days stretch, Nene's on-court time won't be expanding until at least after Christmas
"We gotta get through this stretch," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said during Monday's post-practice media session.
Nene's returned from a lingering plantar fasciitis to his left foot on Nov. 21 and has since played in 10 of 12 games. Initially the team adhered to a 20-minute cap on minutes, though the power forward played 29 in a double-overtime loss against Charlotte on Nov. 24. Since then, Nene has not played more than 24 minutes in any contest for the 3-18 Wizards.
Piggybacking off an earlier mention about the team's packed calendar, the coach said of Nene's minutes, "Somebody mentioned the word brutal so you don’t want to add minutes to a brutal schedule. We’ll see when we get through this schedule here, after Christmas, of adding, seeing where we’re at in terms of adding. But yeah, I anticipate that’s the direction we’re headed in, of those minutes starting to increase."
Following the third game against the Hawks this season, Washington heads south for its first look at the Orlando Magic. Starting Friday, the Wizards start a home-and-home series with the Pistons in Detroit, which concludes Saturday night in Chinatown. After that stretch the Wizards next game comes Dec. 26 against Cleveland.
Even with restricted minutes, Nene's impact on the team has been obvious. With Nene in the lineup, Washington is 3-7 with two overtime losses. When he's sidelined, the record stands at 0-11. The 6-foot-11 forward is averaging 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Without Nene against the Heat, the Wizards lost by 30 points, the team's most lopsided loss of the season. Washington also lost by 26 points against San Antonio, which was the other game Nene sat out since returning from injury.
Nene played in both of Washington's road games at Atlanta (14-7) this season, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds in the 104-95 loss on Dec. 7. Kevin Seraphin scored 19 points and Bradley Beal 18, but behind Josh Smith (23 points, 15 rebounds), Atlanta pulled away late with a decisive 10-2 run. The Hawks also decisively dominated the glass, finishing with a 47-32 rebounding advantage. Smith and company turned 15 offensive rebounds into 22 second-chance points.
Of course not only are the Wizards dealing with limited minutes from their top interior threat, they continue playing without John Wall (knee), A.J. Price (fractured hand), Trevor Ariza (calf) and Trevor Booker (knee). Neither the schedule nor their opponents are forgiving.
"You face it every year. Everybody faces it," Wittman said. "We had 4 in 5, and we’ve got 4 in 5 this week. Nobody feels sorry for us, and we can’t. I think we got into a little of that in the Miami game. We show up and Nene’s not able to play, and AJ Price is out and Trevor is out, who played in the game prior against these guys, all three of those guys playing and now they’re not playing. I think we felt sorry for ourselves a little bit going in, and it looked like it."
Notes...Wittman said Booker received a Platelet-rich Plasma injection Monday morning and it could be a week before determining the treatment's effect. The 6-foot-8 energy forward has missed the last 12 games since straining his knee in the fourth quarter against Indiana on Nov. 19.