ATLANTA -- The puzzle the Wizards have yet to solve is how to make Nene a factor instead of a liability in this second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks. Though the series is tied 1-1, Nene has gone 0-for-2.
Nene has produced Roy Hibbert-like stats in two games: 0-for-9 shooting, two points, seven rebounds and six turnovers.
"He's got to fight through it. He's got to play through it," coach Randy Wittman said about the 7-foot power forward's struggles. "Things in this world aren't perfect. When you struggle like that you got to play harder, be more concentrated. It's a thing that any player goes through. It's just so happened that these first two games he's struggled. We need him to step up. And he will. I have confidence that that will happen."
When Nene has had performance issues in the past, unless he was limited by a foot injury, Wittman has stuck with his veteran in the starting lineup. Where he has adjusted has been in how long he will stick with Nene before going to Plan B.
So what would that be? Drew Gooden is the first big off the bench for Nene which gives the Wizards a different look. He has three-point range, can beat his man off the dribble and create an up-tempo style that they need vs. the small-ball looks from Atlanta. Kris Humphries had been ahead of Gooden in the rotation most of the season but has appeared just once in six postseason games. He doesn't have a post-up game of Nene or Gooden's three-point range.
The other option is to stick with small lineups, either with Pierce at power forward with Otto Porter as the small forward and bringing in Rasual Butler in relief to keep the floor spread for John Wall (if he can play with his left wrist), Ramon Sessions and Bradley Beal to get into the paint.
Nene was a different player in the first two games of a first-round sweep of the Toronto Raptors. He set the tone by averaging 11 rebounds as the Wizards won both on the road. The Hawks, however, have more versatile bigs in All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Both can score away from the basket on face-ups, shoot from long range, attack off the bounce and rebound with abandon.
"Nene's fine. He'll be good," Beal said. "I think he's thinking a lot, kind of pressing himself a little bit. But he's fine. He just needs to do what we know he's capable of doing, that's dominating and being the best big on the floor. He has to clear his mind of all things."