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Morning tip: When Nene isn't hurt, he's special


Morning tip: When Nene isn't hurt, he's special

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."

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It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

The Wizards crossed off an important goal on Saturday night by beating the Indiana Pacers and therefore securing the season series. If the teams tie with the same regular season record, the Wizards will get the higher playoff seed. As of today, that would mean home court advantage in the first round.

Though the Wizards have beaten the Pacers in two of their three matchups this season, we only know so much about how they would match up in the playoffs. The first game between them didn't feature Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo and John Wall didn't play in any of the three games. The Pacers were without both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis on Saturday night.

Given the Pacers underwent so much change over the summer, there is no real data to go off of from before this season. They are a completely different team with Oladipo leading the way and Paul George now in Oklahoma City.


There are reasons to believe, however, that the Wizards would fare well against the Pacers over the course of a seven-game series. For one, they figured out how to slow Oladipo and his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic on Saturday night. Both had killed the Wizards in previous matchups.

Oladipo was held to 18 points, over five points below his season average of 23.5. He had four turnovers, shot 7-for-16 (43.7%) and finished a -18 in a game the Pacers lost by seven.

The Wizards had some success with Tomas Satoransky guarding Oladipo. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 with long arms. He was able to recover on several occasions to alter Oladipo's shots.

Satoransky and Bradley Beal also did a good job keeping pace with Oladipo on the fastbreak. The Pacers had only four fastbreak points in the game. Oladipo is especially dangerous in the open court.

“We just made sure that we were aggressive with him and made sure he saw a lot of bodies in the paint," Beal said. "The last game, he got a lot of easy ones in transition. We just made sure that we got back on the shot, loaded to the ball and forced the other guys to attack.”

For Bogdanovic, it was about limiting open shots from the perimeter. Bogdanovic had 11 points, three below his season average and had four turnovers. Beal and Otto Porter stripped Bogdanovic for steals and Marcin Gortat took a charge on one play in the third quarter.


But it was all about taking away the outside shot. Bogdanovic only hit one shot in the first half and it was a three. The only reason he got it off is because Kelly Oubre, Jr. lost his balance backing up. That gave Bogdanovic the window he needed. Otherwise, Oubre helped frustrate the former Wizards small forward. So did Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, who did a good job covering their teammates off screens.

The Pacers are an average offensive team, ranking 16th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating. They are better defensively, ranking ninth-best in opponents points per game and 12th in defensive efficiency.

If the Wizards can limit Oladipo and Bogdanovic, the Pacers' two leading scorers, they should have a good shot at beating the Pacers in the playoffs. Beyond them, the Pacers are thin in the scoring department. Turner only averages 13.6 points and no one else beyond him can consistently make an opposing defense pay for mistakes. Conversely, several Wizards players have given the Pacers major trouble through three games this season.

Gortat, who had 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday, has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting against Indiana. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had 16 points in 18 minutes, has averaged 15.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.


In addition to those guys, Markieff Morris, Porter, Mike Scott, Mahinmi and Satoransky are all shooting over 50 percent against the Pacers. Satoransky is shooting 71.4 percent through three games.

The Wizards have the pieces to counter what the Pacers do best. Indiana is seventh in three-point percentage, but the Wizards are the best team in basketball in opponents three-point percentage. The Pacers are built around an All-Star guard, but the Wizards have two All-Star guards. The Pacers have a collection of talented wing players, but so do the Wizards.

"Hypothetically, I do like Indiana," Beal said. "I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them."

Add it all up and the Wizards have every reason to feel confident if they see the Pacers in the posteason. Keep that in mind because they very well could meet up in the spring.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

Here are five plays or moments from the Wizards' 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night that are worth revisiting... 

1. The Wizards took care of business against the Pacers on Saturday night and in doing so earned an important advantage in the playoff race. They won the season series and therefore own a tiebreaker for playoff seeding and currently that would mean home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs began today.

The Wizards took control early and part of that effort were five first-half assists by Bradley Beal. He ended up with 19 points, but some of his best plays were passes.

On this one, he executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat:


2. This was another pretty pass to Gortat. Tomas Satoransky, who had 12 points and eight assists, fed Gortat with a nice reach-around pass on a play that featured some impressive ball movement overall:

3. This was a great moment. The Wizards had a member of the military surprise his niece on the court. She literally did not see it coming:


4. These last two plays are dunks by Kelly Oubre, Jr., who finished with 16 points. On this play, he cut through the and threw down with authority:

5. This dunk was set up by a beautiful pass from Ramon Sessions. It traveled about three-quarters of the court and Oubre did the rest:

The Wizards now have three days off before their next game as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Things are trending positive for the Wizards as the playoff race heats up.

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