The deck appears stacked against the Wizards, who enter Wednesday's regular-season finale with a chance to move up to the No. 5 seed and win their fourth game in a row. The Boston Celtics aren't likely to have Jared Sullinger and Rajon Rondo is ailing. In other words, the Wizards are primed for an upset.
Going into Monday's game vs. the Miami Heat, they had a Jekyll-and-Hyde killer instinct. The Heat didn't play LeBron James or Chris Bosh, but instead of letting up the Wizards (43-38) stepped on the gas pedal and led by as many as 36 points. In particular, Nene had a rare edginess at shootaround. It's a disposition not seen much with this team, but he came off the bench with it and it was contagious.
"I want him to have an edge. No question," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I want to have an edge on Wednesday, last game of the year on the road. We've secured a winning record on the road for this team. I want them continue, even though its one game left, to build and use that game as something positive going into the playoffs."
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Trevor Ariza, another veteran who has extensive postseason experience like Nene, has seen a difference in the approach. There have been too many letdowns to count in the last two seasons.
"Earlier in the year and last year, we would be playing against players that normally don't play a lot and the games would be close," Ariza said. "Actually, they probably would've won. It just shows the growth we've made as a team and strides that our young players have taken."
Nene isn't ready to anoint this team as having cleared that hurdle which is more mental than physical. They've lost at critical stages this season to the Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets. Another loss to the Celtics could not only drop them to a No. 7 seed -- and a first-round playoff matchup with the Miami Heat -- if the Charlotte Bobcats win their finale Wednesday, it would completely flip the script.
"I think it's too early. We're going to show what we learned in the whole season in the playoffs," Nene said. "We made a big step compared to the last two years. It's time to show everything we've worked for."