Even when the Wizards had shootaround Wednesday morning, John Wall left with the impression that Jared Dudley, who had started the last two times as the power forward vs. the Miami Heat, would be in that role. It was Nene.
Coach Randy Wittman, recognizing that Chris Bosh took advantage of that matchup in Miami's 97-75 victory on Jan. 3, pulled the switch.
The Wizards (20-21) went to Nene early as he scored six of the Wizards' first eight points. He finished with 16 points, six rebounds and five steals next to Marcin Gortat who had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
"We played a lot of inside-out basketball to start the game," coach Randy Wittman said. "I thought our energy level was good. Rebounding the ball, which obviously with Nene and Marcin Gortat in the game together, would be better than when we go small."
When Wittman went to the duo in Monday's blowout loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Wizards were terrible offensively and had defensive leaks all over the floor. That's because the Heat don't have the shooters to spread them out which allows Nene, who made his first start as a power forward and played a season-high 26 minutes, to be more effective.
Bosh had 18 points and just four rebounds. His frontcourt mate Hassan Whiteside, the NBA's leading shot-blocker, went out in the second quarter with a strained oblique (side) muscle and didn't return. That also made it easier to handle Miami (23-20) as it lost for the sixth time in seven games.
"It's pretty much classically what they've been doing, that 1-2 combo. They're both great passers and very good scorers down low. I saw that they really tried to get Nene going quite a bit," Bosh said. "I just wanted to be there to contest shots. He made them over me, which he probably knew he'd get those. They established him early and really got him going very early and I think it really helped them out."
Bosh scored 23 points in just 28 minutes in the last meeting. He was impossible for the Wizards, who were outrebouned 54-45, to stop. The lost that edge 34-31 in this one. Nene and Gortat combined to shoot 15 of 27.
"They were running a play where Bosh curls and usually gets the ball in his left hand and gets to the rack," Garrett Temple said of the left-handed 6-10 Bosh who also has three-point range. "He curled right into Nene or right into March and it was just clogged up in there. With that size, that's obviously what they can do when they're together. Clog up the paint, rebound the ball and make it tough for them to score inside. ... Nene and March know how to play together. They play really well together, playing buddy ball. You try different things if small ball doesn't work. We can play traditional or we can go back to playing small if we need to."
The Wizards won the first meeting 114-103 doing just that, deploying Dudley and Otto Porter in the post to throw off Miami. They didn't have Gortat, who was out on personal leave or Nene as he was still recovering from a left calf strain.
The last two playoff appearances featured Nene and Gortat in the starting lineup but the Wizards have opted for a pace-and-space style. The truth is, the teams that do best in the playoffs can play both ways and that's why the roster was built this way. They can go big two two post players or go super-small with shooters all over the floor with Gary Neal, Bradley Beal, Dudley and Porter.
"It's awesome," Beal said of the duo. "That reminds me of the past three years that we've all been playing together. It's great to see those two out there working and battling together. You never know, that's what we may stick with and it's giving us a different look."
Against more prolific three-point shooting bigs, Nene and Gortat won't work as well. It's better to separate them and give the second unit a post player in Nene who can get his own shot. Besides, if he starts at power forward again, who is the backup center?
Kris Humphries doesn't play with his back to the basket. DeJuan Blair isn't as big, mobile nor is the defensive presence. None of them can create their own shot or for others like Nene. The good thing for the Wizards is if they get healthy -- and for Nene that's a big if -- they'll have options.