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Wizards stand firm behind Nene -- and they should

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Wizards stand firm behind Nene -- and they should

Ever since the Wizards lost Game 5 to the Atlanta Hawks, on a buzzer-beating putback dunk by Al Horford, Nene has been the focus of the blame at least locally. He should be released. He should be cut. He should be traded. The franchise is better off without him.

Most of the backlash has been absurd. CSNwashington.com reported earlier this offseason that Nene, who is entering the final year of a deal that pays him $13 million, didn't draw any interest in the trade market and isn't likely to be moved before the start of the 2015-16 season. If he is eventually moved with that expiring deal, that's more likely to happen near the February trade deadline but if they allow his size to leave they'll want size in return. Being injury-prone is a recurring issue, but the Wizards like him, and they'll need him to get past the Chicago Bulls or Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason. 

How quickly those forget that the culture in D.C. changed when the 7-foot Brazilian arrived in a trade with the Denver Nuggets and JaVale McGee and the circus that surrounded him was shipped away for good. 

Yes, Horford was the player whom Nene was tasked to guard on the final play of that 82-81 loss in Atlanta, which dropped the Wizards to a 3-2 deficit in an Eastern Conference semifinal series they'd lose in six. But disregard all of the hot-take reactions and let's recap what actually happened on the play:

  • Nene left Horford, who was standing on the perimeter and set a screen on Bradley Beal to free Kyle Korver, to help John Wall who initially was beaten on the drive by Dennis Schroder. Wall recovered to make a magnificent play to block the shot but he never should've opened the door for the driving lane in the first place. Schroder isn't that good of an outside shooter. The gamble got him a blocked shot but it caused the entire defense to collapse and sent everyone into scramble mode.

  • Paul Pierce was beaten badly from the top of the key to the rim on Schroder's drive by Paul Millsap, who'd firmly established position for the rebound or loose ball. But again, this was a ripple effect of Wall's initial defense.

  • With Millsap closer to the rim than Horford, Nene shifts to block out Millsap from getting the ball. If he hadn't, Millsap gets the putback to win the game.

  • Horford, rolling off of his brush screen for Korver, has an unobstructed run to the basket. Pierce is behind Millsap -- out of position to help gang rebound. 

  • On the strong side of the floor, where Otto Porter is in the near corner defending DeMarre Carroll who is not involved in the play, he gets beat baseline. Like Porter did in the infamous regular-season loss to the Bulls when Tony Snell got behind him to run the baseline, Porter loses sight of Carroll who slips into the paint and is in better position to rebound or tap out a 50-50 ball. 

  • Beal correctly stays glued to Korver in the deep corner on the weakside as he should've. There's no excuse ever to leave the NBA's most lethal three-point shooter unguarded for a catch-and-shoot on second chance.

Somehow, Nene tends to be assigned a lion's share of the blame for helping a teammate (Pierce) who was beaten on a play but no one (Pierce should've slid left to pick up Horford) was able to help him.

Look no further than Game 6 at Verizon Center, when Nene cleared the path for his teammates to get loose ball rebounds that he couldn't reach -- twice -- in the first quarter by sealing multiple defenders and they simply watched. The boos reigned down on Nene as he went to the bench, but those plays were not his fault. Drew Gooden came in for him and did the same thing. He couldn't get to the rebound but wisely used his body and wingspan to seal multiple defenders. Despite having a man advantage because of Gooden's savvy, his teammates again watched the Hawks recoup the ball from the floor for a second-chance basket. Did anyone boo Gooden? 

Within the organization everyone realizes there were a lot of breakdowns on the ill-fated defensive stand in Game 5. And if Wall had never broken his left wrist in the opener this conversation wouldn't be had because they probably win the series regardless of these shortcomings. 

Nene's dirty work in the first two games of a first-round series with the Toronto Raptors staked them a 2-0 lead on the road, but no one remembers those double-doubles. What did Porter do in the last three games of the series with Atlanta, which won each? He shot 7-for-26 and never reached double figures. How did Gooden perform? He shot 3-for-15 in the same stretch. No one remembers these, either.

The truth isn't as simple and convenient as some would like it to be. 

When teams go to smaller lineups and force Nene to defend stretch fours at the three-point arc, that's clearly not his strength. Opponents have succeeded in making one of the Wizards' greatest strengths for the last few years -- Nene -- a weakness in this regard. 

As a result, Nene must be put in a position to play where he's more comfortable which is close to the basket in 2015-16. It's not his fault that he can't defend speedy, three-point shooting power forwards. That's on coach Randy Wittman, who has said repeatedly since the season ended that he'll log more time at center. Gooden was retained as a free agent because of the Wizards' commitment to playing smaller lineups with more flexibility at power forward with stretch shooters. When he gets healthy again, Jared Dudley will play there, too. 

The best teams can play big or small. Had the Wizards faced the Bulls or Cavaliers last season, they'd  have needed Nene's size because of the likes of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Pau Gasol, Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. If Golden State didn't have the ability to go from big (Andrew Bogut) to small (Draymond Green) at center, would they have won the NBA championship? 

Nene, who was key when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round two seasons ago because he matches up so well with Noah, may be 33 when the new season starts. He may be a scaled down version of the player he was a few years ago because of the foot injuries. The Wizards, however, won't do the convenient thing and throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes time. Nor should they. He deserves better than that. 

RELATED: John Wall pushes the limits of fashion with shark pants

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 110-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night...

1. The Wizards didn't start out well, as they trailed by nine points at the end of the first quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. stumbled early by missing four of his first six shots and it looked like a carryover of his slump before the All-Star break.

But Oubre got hot in the second quarter and helped the Wizards turn the game around. This was one of his best plays, a two-handed slam that he celebrated with an emphatic scream to the crowd:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

2. Tomas Satoransky was one of the stars of the game. He had 17 points to go along with eight assists, four rebounds and two steals. 

Here's one of his dimes, a perfect alley-oop lob to Markieff Morris, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds:

3. Satoransky has reached double-figures in six of the 10 games since John Wall went out with an injury. This was a very impressive move, a stepback fadeaway that was super smooth:

RELATED: GET TO KNOW NEW WIZARDS FREE AGENT SIGNING

4. Ian Mahinmi made some key contributions including four offensive rebounds and a steal. This was his best basket, a powerful slam that came at a key time:

5. This play helped seal the victory. It was a smart after-timeout set drawn up by head coach Scott Brooks and it worked to perfection:

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS