HOUSTON -- Usually, Nene changes the tone of how the Wizards play defense, and his physicality eventually led to his ejection that also shut down Dwight Howard after he'd posted a 13-point first quarter. They're back to a smaller starting lineup while Nene comes off the bench behind center Marcin Gortat.
"He played him as good as anybody has," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after a 123-122 win vs. the Rockets on Saturday. "They were battling. They were going at it all night."
Nene and Howard, who repeatedly got tangled as the 7-footers battled for position, were ejected with 8:08 left in the game for a skirmish. Howard had a first-half technical for clashing with Jared Dudley. Nene was assessed an additional technical for taunting after the fact.
"Marcin is not going to be as physical as Nene is," point guard John Wall said. "But Marcin does a great job of finessing, rebounding the ball and protecting the paint where Nene is more of a physical presence that you might need at times. It's great when you can have both of them."
In 19 minutes, Nene was 4 of 4 shooting for 10 points. He only had two rebounds, but true to form when he's in the game he helps the Wizards do better on the boards. How? He keeps his man from getting the ball which is every bit as good. The Wizards had a 45-37 edge in rebounding and were plus-five with Nene on the court.
Howard only scored seven points after his initial burst, having trouble getting to his sweet spot on the low block for his jump hook. His shots came up a bit short over Nene's superior position defense and outstretched arms.
Gortat made all four of his shots, including a key layup with 2:45 left to trim the deficit to 116-114. He had 13 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks but the Wizards were minus-1 with him on the court.
He allowed Howard to get into his comfort zone and this is yet another advantage to having Nene play behind Gortat rather than starting with him which clogs the lane. They were 1-3 with them starting together.
No other big on the roster can do what he does and moving him at the trade deadline without someone in return to replace that exact skill set isn't an option worth considering.