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Nene's 'sacrifice' sets tone for Wizards' turnaround

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Nene's 'sacrifice' sets tone for Wizards' turnaround

ATLANTA -- After Game 1, as John Wall sat in front of his locker with ice on his ballooning left wrist to encourage his teammate directly across from him. "That's sacrifice," he told Nene repeatedly after the 104-98 victory to take home-court advantage from the Atlanta Hawks.

Just as Wall's relationship with Marcin Gortat can be an interesting one, so is his with Nene, a veteran who has been used to having the offense run through him. That's no longer the case. Wall has been more assertive, Bradley Beal is taking more shots, Paul Pierce is playing more in Nene's power forward spot and Gortat is getting the ball more in pick-and-rolls going to the rim. Nene? He's become the utilityman.

"Me and him, we talk a lot, in the hotel ... things like that. Just having good communication and knowing what teammates need," said Wall after he injured himself but finished with 18 points, 13 assists and three blocks while Nene failed to score in 17 minutes. "He's sacrificing a lot for out team."

Like Gortat, when Nene doesn't get the ball he has had a tendency to complain and it filters over to the defensive side where there were seriously lapses between the frontcourt and backcourt during the regular season. Wall, who is the leader of the Wizards because he's the primary ballhandler and the one with the $80 million contract, had to manage that. Nene is making $13 million, his role is diminishing and next season he'll be an expiring contract. The conflicting emotions and agendas once got in the way of the Wizards, a 46-win team that should've won at least 50 this season. They're a No. 5 seed with a chance to win two games in a row on the road to start a series for the second time in a row if they can take Game 2 from Atlanta tonight (Pregame coverage starts at 7 p.m. on CSN).

"In the regular season its 82 games. We might not play the pick-and-roll defense or do the offensive sets the way we want to. We see Nene not really being an offensive threat in the playoffs in certain games but he sacrificed, blocking pick-and-rolls, helping each other, getting defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds," Wall said. "Everybody is sacrificing and doing the little things and not complaining just for us to win. I feel like in the regular season sometimes you might not get that because it's a long 82 games."

Beal, who was among those targeted by Nene last season when he said young player on the Wizards weren't focused, has seen the shift in Nene. He's not as hot-headed. He's not worried about scoring. He's not arguing how games are being officiated. Instead, the 7-footer averaged 11 rebounds in the first two games of a first-round series with the Toronto Raptors who were swept. He only had two in Game 1 with Atlanta but figures to be a factor here at some point.

"Nene has been more defensive-minded than anything. He's important because every guy he guards is like a stretch four, can put it on the floor the last two series," Beal said of Nene's matchup with Paul Millsap this series and Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson with Toronto. "He's done a great job of playing the concepts we need him to play.

"Offensively, he doesn't like refs. He's doing a better job of staying poised and just playing through it though at times he's getting smacked hard and there's no call. He does a great job of handling it and playing through it because we're going to need him in the playoffs."

RELATED: [Wizards make decision on Beal, Wall for Game 2]

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Former Wizard Jared Dudley: Time for a Wizards shake-up

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Former Wizard Jared Dudley: Time for a Wizards shake-up

Jared Dudley spent one season with the Washington Wizards. The core pieces on the current roster were there during that 2015-16 campaign. Based on that prior experience and a first-hand look Friday night, the Brooklyn Nets forward offered a candid assessment of the 5-10 squad. 

"I’m seeing a team that has been together too long,” Dudley told NBC Sports Washington following the Wizards’ 115-104 home loss. “They haven’t made progress, so it’s time to change things over there.”

John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter were teammates of Dudley for a full season. Markieff Morris joined the roster at the 2016 trade deadline. Washington failed to make the playoffs that season, but qualified in each of the next two and has reached the postseason in four of the five last years. 

The Wizards did not advance beyond the second round during any of those postseason appearances and lost in the first round last season after a 43-39 regular season. Following a 2-9 start, Washington won three in a row before falling to a scrappy Nets team that lost leading scorer Caris Levert earlier in the week to a gruesome ankle injury.

Dudley started and played 22 minutes in Brooklyn's win. The 12-year veteran's opinion on Washington included suggestions like extended use of a small-ball lineup. 

“I think (they have) good players, but sometimes, good players need different situations. For them, I think that it’s tough the way the league is changing. They play two bigs,” Dudley said about the combination of power forward Markieff Morris and center Dwight Howard. “In this day in age, Otto needs to play more four because he’s tall enough, more spacing.”

Facing a Brooklyn defense that leads the league in opponent mid-range shots, Washington often settled for such looks. The Wizards attempted a season-low 18 three-point attempts. 

The NBA rumor mill continually attempts to plot a new course for the Wizards. New York Times NBA insider Marc Stein reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves tried to “engage” Washington in trade talks for Jimmy Butler before shipping the All-Star guard to Philadelphia. “But the Wizards have kept Beal off limits amid their 4-9 start,” Stein reported earlier this week. “They would naturally prefer to trade the struggling Otto Porter, or perhaps even John Wall, but both possess hard-to-move contracts.”

Dudley sees the logic of moving at least one of those three players.

“I think they’ve had enough time, but they really haven’t (broken) through,” Dudley said. “I can see by the All-Star break or summer time one of these pieces moving. It’s going to be good for them. If it’s John, or Otto or Brad, one of them three, I think their next move is going to be good for both teams."
 

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Kelly Oubre Jr. is ready to 'take over the world' with new Converse shoe deal

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Kelly Oubre Jr. is ready to 'take over the world' with new Converse shoe deal

Kelly Oubre Jr. takes his style very seriously, perhaps to a point even further than the most fashionable of NBA players. He wants to be a figure in the industry someday as a designer of his own shoes and clothing line.

So when he approached the process of brokering a new shoe contract, he took into consideration factors that went well beyond the average player and outside of the mainstream. He wanted more than a basketball shoe. He wanted a lifestyle brand and a partnership that wasn't solely about basketball.

Oubre left Adidas to sign a new mutli-year deal this week with Nike and Converse. He will wear Nike shoes in the meantime, until a concept made by Converse is ready for game action. Then, he will become the only NBA player to wear the brand on the floor.

"Everyone knows me and I'm a different individual," he said. "Converse is reinventing themselves in the basketball world. I will be the only athlete this year flying the flag. I'm very excited to be able to represent."

Converse has a history in the game of basketball, of course. Before Nike and Adidas took over, Converse was the dominant brand for most of the 20th century, up until the 1980s. Their Chuck Taylor All Stars maintain a legacy today in the casual shoe market.

The deep basketball history of Converse appealed to Oubre.

"It's old school. It started with basketball, then it went to the rock stage, then it went to people wearing them without any thought to what the foundation of the brand was," he said.

Oubre said there is no release date yet for the new-age Converse basketball shoe. He expects to have some input on the design of future shoes and said it's part of why he chose them.

Oubre plans to begin his own clothing line at some point with the working title of 'Dope Soul.' He told NBC Sports Washington on Friday that it is "coming soon," but couldn't provide any further details. 

Oubre had restrictions under his previous contract with Adidas and had been looking forward to finding a new deal that would allow for such things. It sounds like he may be afforded that freedom.

For now, with Converse, Oubre is excited to chart a new path with an unconventional company.

"You can't really define Converse because we've done everything and we're about to take over the world," he said.