In just 12 minutes, and in Nene's first action since Nov. 27, his play in Wednesday's 121-115 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers give the Wizards hope that they'll emerge from what's now a two-game losing streak.
He took four free throws in less than 90 seconds when he entered at 2:38 of the first quarters. Nene, a 52% shooter from the foul line, missed three of them. But he ended with seven points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal. His strip of Kyrie Irving led to Ramon Session's dunk to tie the score at 95 to erase an 18-point deficit.
"What you expect. A little sore," Nene said of the left calf strain. "It was good. It's good to be back. I was a little nervous in the beginning but it was good. I've been pushing myself in here. I've been doing the right thing. Now I just got to let the game and conditioning come back. I just got to be patient."
Nene gave the Wizards (15-18) a physical presence that they've lacked at times in the middle. Kris Humphries (knee) and Drew Gooden (calf) sat out. DeJuan Blair, who had been unavailable because of knee soreness recently, wasn't used. Marcin Gortat had 12 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes.
"It was good getting Nene back," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Getting his size back. But we were limited in the amount of minutes we could play him."
It was a short stint but Nene is one of the few players on the second unit who can create his own shot and for others. Gary Neal, who had been out with a thigh strain, had 13 points off the bench. Bradley Beal (leg) is working his way back and probably is a few weeks away.
"Nene played phenomenal tonight," said Jared Dudley, who has had to play a disproportionate amount of time on the low block in his absence. "Gary, you see with the added punch. Once we get Brad and hold the course, we're going to be a good team."
The offense flowed better in the third quarter when the Wizards made 8 of 11 three-pointers, according to John Wall, in part because of the little things Nene did that often go unnoticed.
"He was key," Wall said. "Rebounding the ball, setting good screens, finishing, giving us another low-post presence who can score the ball and also giving March a break."