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Even in defeat Nene proved difference-maker

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Even in defeat Nene proved difference-maker

One look at the Wizards against Atlanta on Wednesday and instinctively anyone watching knew things were different. Obviously, the final result remained the same as Washington fell to a franchise-record 0-10 start following a crushing 101-100 overtime loss to the Hawks. Yet during his 19 minutes, his first live game action since August 8, Nene's on-court impact proved obvious.

"He was huge," guard A.J. Price said. "Regardless of his stats, just his presence on the floor alone gave us confidence - almost a new found confidence for me in my first time playing with him. A confidence I don't think we had at all this year. You could just feel the difference with him on the court."

Following Friday's practice, Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of Nene, "He showed me a lot because basically he hadn't played a basketball game since [August 8] when Brazil got beat in the Olympics. That was his last 5-on-5, that's a long time to come back in the end of November and play the way he did."

Coming off the bench against the Hawks, Nene scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds while sinking 8 of 10 free throws. Best of all, no physical setbacks, no re-aggravation of the plantar fasciitis injury in his right foot that kept the 30-year-old out of the lineup for the first nine games and out of practice until last week.

 "My quads are sore, that's the news," Nene said on Friday, having wrapped up final minutes of practice with an assortment of ice bags covering his legs. "I tried to compensate on my left cause my left is my strong leg so my quad's a little sore. That's going to take a while...I was out that long, I need to be patient."

As for simply playing in a game that counted, Nene said, "It was good. I'm going to do everything to help my team. I'm going to give my best on the court. When I do that, inside, I know I feel OK. Now we need to win. When start to win, I'm gonna start feeling great. So now, I feel OK."

Heading into Saturday's home game against Charlotte, Wittman said he is still mulling over his starting lineup options, having used a different five in three of the last four games. While Shaun Livingston and Kevin Seraphin started along side Jordan Crawford, Jan Vesely and Bradley Beal, Price had 14 points and seven assists coming off the bench for the first time this season. In his initial appearance a member of Washington's second unit,Trevor Ariza tallied 12 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

Not only did Nene not start against Atlanta, he also did play in the extra session. Wittman acknowledged he had his primary interior presence on a minutes count with 20 being the outer limit. Technically Nene's overall run clocked in at 19:43, meaning Wittman had a few seconds to play with.

"I probably should have put him out there for the [overtime] jump ball and then taken him out," the coached cracked, before discussing the delicate balance he faces regarding Nene's minutes. "I've got to be careful. It's hard. The impact he has on our team and how he helps our other players especially from an offense standpoint, we've got to be smart too."

That smart talk includes the team's play in the final minutes. Even without Nene on the court, Price said the confidence he provided, "carried over to the end of the game. We were playing hard still, but we still didn’t execute at the end of the game the way we should’ve and, that’s on us.”

“We’ve got to learn to win games down the stretch,” said Wittman, who also reminded his team of the one game they truly never competed in this season.

"We owe them," the coach stated at the end of practice, referring to the Bobcats. Washington lost at Charlotte 92-76 on Nov. 13. Not only is the margin Washington's largest in defeat this season, it also stands as its only game truly decided before the fourth quarter.

While Nene practiced, Trevor Booker sat out with a right knee strain. The 6-foot-8 forward did play against Atlanta after suffering an injury late in Monday's home loss against Indiana.

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Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

In terms of the needs on their roster and the guys most likely to be available when they are on the clock at No. 15 in the first round, few players in this draft class seem as obvious a fit with the Washington Wizards more than Robert Williams of Texas A&M. So, it was no surprise that he not only visited them in Washington on Monday, but received the only individual public workout they have held during this year's predraft process.

Williams could be the answer to their longstanding quest for an athletic big man. No need to bring in five other guys for the usual six-player workout when Williams deserves a longer and more extensive look than most prospects they are considering.

The 20-year-old was put through a variety of drills Monday afternoon, just days before the 2018 NBA Draft. He likes the fit with Washington, if that's how things end up sorting out.

"I definitely feel like they could use a big like me, a defensive-style athletic big like me. I definitely see myself fitting here," he said.

Williams is one of the best big men in this year's draft. He is 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds with a 7-5 wingspan. He used that length to dominate in the paint at the college level.

Williams averaged a modest 10.4 points for the Aggies in 2017-18, but also 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. That was his sophomore year. He averaged 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as a freshman.

He was a shot-blocking force the day he stepped on campus and believes those skills will translate to the professional ranks. In the NBA, Williams believes he can thrive because his defensive versatility will be even more valuable in a day and age where switching is paramount.

"I feel like I can guard all positions. That’s one of my biggest attributes," he said. "It’s just about embracing it, having fun stopping a guard. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can do it."

Williams may adapt to the NBA quickly on the defensive end and that's where the Wizards need help the most. They haven't had a consistent rim-protector in years. Last season, point guard John Wall led the team in blocks per game.

Offense is where the questions lie with Williams. He wasn't a big scorer in college and does not have much of an outside shot. The fact he shot just 47.1 percent from the free throw line this past season suggests he has a lot of work to do before he can stretch the floor.

Williams will need to find a niche offensively, likely as a rim-runner off pick-and-rolls. He sees a lot of potential in a possible pick-and-roll pairing with Wall.

"He’s an elite passer and an elite guard. Coming off a pick-and-roll, you have to pay attention to him as well as have to pay attention to me as well. It’s a win-win situation," Williams said.

Williams believes his offensive game will open up with more space at the NBA level. The Wizards have Wall surrounded by three-point shooters in Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Markieff Morris. Toss Williams into the middle and he could go to work in the paint doing the rest.

If Williams were drafted by the Wizards, he could look at Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets as a model to follow. Like Houston, the Wizards have two All-Star guards. An athletic big man who doesn't need plays run for him could be the perfect complement.

No one needs to tell Williams that, he is well-aware. He said that at nearly every stop during the predraft process Capela's name has come up.

"I knew that’s what you were going to say," Williams said to a reporter (raises hand) who asked about the Capela comparison.

Williams continued to say they are different players and it's not entirely fair to compare them. That exchange showed Williams has an edge to him, sort of like Morris. He's clearly not afraid to be honest when some players would not.

Despite downplaying the comparison, Williams can see what makes Capela successful.

"I’ve watched him. He’s a great player," Williams said. "He is around the right people. He just plays his role. He runs off a lot of screens. He gets up there and does what he has to do."

Williams is gearing up for Thursday's draft and trying to decide who he will walk the stage with, as the NBA has introduced a new tradition of each player walking with two people. He said it will likely be his mother and sister. Perhaps by the end of the night he will also walk that stage wearing a Washington Wizards hat.

For more on Williams, check out our extensive draft profile on him.

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Former Wizards forward arrested on armed robbery charges after stealing $100,000

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Former Wizards forward arrested on armed robbery charges after stealing $100,000

Former NBA player J.J. Hickson faces charges of armed robbery after breaking into a home near Atlanta, stealing $100,000 from the house, and physically assaulting a teenager who was inside, authorities said Monday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Hickson, who played eight seasons in the NBA with four teams before his brief appearance in Washington, is currently being held in Coweta County Jail without bond. 

He is currently affiliated with the Lebanese Basketball League but played 15 games with the Wizards during the 2015-16 season. Hickson averaged 4.6 ppg and scored a season-high 15 points against the Nets in the penultimate game of the regular season. He has not played professionally in the United States since.  Hickson played just one season at North Carolina State before being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the No. 19 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft.

Jimmy Yarbrough, the sheriff's spokesperson in Coweta, said that while at least two people were involved in the invasion, only Hickson is being held and charged.

According to authorities, Hickson entered through a side door, armed with a knife and his face and head covered. He was initially apprehended by another department and later transferred into the custody of Coweta County law enforcement. 

At this time in the investigation, very little detail is publicly available.

The teenage victim, whose name remains private, received medical treatment for several broken bones and is fortunately in good condition.