Wizards excel even with half-speed Nene

Wizards excel even with half-speed Nene
December 1, 2013, 4:30 pm
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Randy Wittman on Wizards win over Atlanta

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The usual big smile Nene sports after a victory isn't there. The Wizards' ailing power forward exited the locker room, after their sixth win in eight games Saturday, without a word.

He missed the previous game with a sore right Achilles, but Nene gutted this one out. He played 36 minutes and grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds. He also made a series of key plays to end the fourth quarter to help close out a 108-101 victory vs. the Atlanta Hawks. 

It almost seems like beating a dead horse when assessing Nene's value, but a true impact player can change how the game is played -- and how his team is defended -- without scoring much. Nene had 13 points to beat Atlanta. He only made 4 of 12 shots. 

"He's more of an offensive threat than most of the guys we put in at the four position. The other guys, their strengths are defense and hustle things. Like I told him, he's in pain but, 'It's your presence. You don't have to go out there and give us 30 or 20 (points). It's your presence that makes the defense respect you.' It makes it a lot easier for us so when we get trapped on a pick and you throw a pass to him, he's making the right reads and finding other guys or he can finish at the basket."

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The Hawks had closed an 18-point deficit to 87-79 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter but Nene had a blocked shot, drew a charge at 4:20 with the lead down to 92-86, had an offensive rebound and putback and made 3 of 4 free throws. 

"Fifty percent of Nene is sometimes more than other (guys at 100 percent)," Marcin Gortat said. "He's a great player. He fights every possession. He played hurt out there and quite honestly, you could only imagine what would happen if he played 100 percent (healthy). We would not win this game without him. He was the X-factor."

[MORE: Wizards beat Hawks, get eighth win in November (VIDEO)]

That benefit extends to the perimeter with Martell Webster, who made 5 of 9 three-pointers. 

"Physically, he may not have it very night but mentally he's there," he said of Nene. "He's a defensive presence. He's an attitude we need on this team. He brings the best out of all of us."

Or as coach Randy Wittman puts it: "We can play through him. Without Bradley (Beal), we're a little limited other than John of guys being able to create things off the dribble. You can do some of that through Nene at the elbows, in the post. He's just so smart. Defensively, he reads things. ... We understand what his importance is. He does, too."