If Marcin Gorat returns to the Wizards for tonight's game with the Boston Celtics, Nene goes back to his role as a backup center after three stellar games as the starter. But the oft-injured Brazilian is a major part of this resurgence to .500 and has to be monitored carefully.
"We need him. He realizes how much we need him," Bradley Beal said of Nene, who has missed 21 games because of a left calf strain. "He's awesome. He's our best low post scorer and defensively he just brings a physical presence at all times. He allows no easy baskets and he's always there to help his teammates. We have to credit him and continue to praise him because he does a terrific job for us."
In three starts, Nene is shooting 16 of 27, 59.2%. With him on the court at the Chicago Bulls, vs. Milwaukee Bucks and in Friday's blowout at the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards are plus-8, plus-15 and plus-15. Defensively, his pressure on the ball when centers catch it in the high or low post, combined with what John Wall and Garrett Temple are doing to suffocate backcourts and wings like Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre jumping the passing lanes, is causing teams to crack.
The passing, the reads, the movement off the ball, the screens, the deflections and the counter moves Nene can make inside the paint to get his own shot is why the Wizards weren't looking to deal him going into the season. Get rid of Nene, who takes on his role? Gortat is a pick-and-roll player who is an underrated defender but not nearly as physical. DeJuan Blair is undersized at center and isn't nearly the defensive presence that Nene can be under the rim nor can he step out and defend guards on switches. Kris Humphries (right knee), who last played Jan. 3, doesn't play with his back to the basket. And who in the open market is available is better and doesn't tie up salary beyond this season?
It's all about health which has been tricky. Nene has played a season high 25 and 21 minutes in his last two games. When he was hurt Nov. 27, it came in a 33-point blowout loss to the Celtics when he left the court after just two minutes. The Wizards were playing their third game in four days and he was doubting whether or not he should even play.
If the Wizards (19-19) believe there's any chance of a setback by playing the big man in the second game of a back-to-back, will they sit him vs. Boston?
"We know what we can get when Nene is healthy, his pressure defensively, his physicality, rebounding the ball, being able to score in the post, make jump shots, pass the ball," said Wall of Nene, who had eight points and eight rebounds (six offensive) in Indiana. "It's just great when he's out there. When he's not, you miss him and what he does for the team. With March being out he's being doing a good job of giving us as much as he can with his minutes restriction."