WASHINGTON (AP) Nene sat in a chair in a hallway outside of the Washington Wizards locker room. As he spoke, he took a large brace off his left knee and fiddled with it.
"My whole body's sore. I try to push myself. They say I look good, but for me not enough," he said with a smile. "Always push myself."
No one represents the under-the-radar grit, heart and soul of the Wizards better than the Brazilian forward, who has been sidelined six-plus weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament. He returned to practice Monday and made it through another session Tuesday, keeping him on pace to return for Wednesday's pivotal game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
"Play a little bit tomorrow and test my knee," Nene said. "And see where I am."
Coach Randy Wittman plans to restrict Nene's minutes the next few games. The goal is for him to be as fully healthy as possible in time for the franchise's first playoff games in six years. Washington has clinched a berth with five games remaining.
But the Wizards are also trying to fend off the Bobcats. Charlotte trails Washington by one game in the race for the No. 6 seed, and the winner of Wednesday's game will have the upper hand because the Bobcats hold the tiebreaker between the teams.
"This is basically the biggest game of the season for us," All-Star guard John Wall said. "No matter what we did in the past."
Nene's health has been a barometer of the Wizards' success since he was acquired in a trade in March 2012. They were 60-61 with him and 8-34 without him at the time of his latest injury. This time, time they've stayed afloat, going 12-9 in part because of the additions of veterans Drew Gooden and Andre Miller.
"When you've got a dominant player like that that can pass, score and does things that other people probably can't do on the team ... it's always big," Wall said.
Wall also practiced regularly despite an overnight trip to Texas to watch his college team, Kentucky, lose to Connecticut in the NCAA title game. He said he got back to D.C. at 6:30 a.m.
"Slept all the way here," Wall said. "Got a two-hour nap when I got home and then came and practiced. I'm a night owl, man, so it don't bother me."
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