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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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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Jerome Robinson

School: Boston College
Position: Shooting guard
Age: 21
Height: 6-5
Weight: 188
Wingspan: 6-7
Max vertical: N/A

2017/18 stats: 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 48.5 FG%, 40.9 3PT% (2.3 3PT/5.7 3PA), 83.0 FT%
Player comparison: Danny Green
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 29th, NBADraft.net 16th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 17th

5 things to know:

*A three-year player at BC, Robinson developed into a big-time scorer before making the leap to the NBA. He averaged 18.7 points as a sophomore and then 20.7 points as a junior while improving his shooting percentages across the board. He went from 42.3 percent from the field as a sophomore to 48.5 in 2017-18.

*Robinson turned himself into an excellent three-point shooter. After shooting just 33.3 percent as a sophomore, he got that up to 40.9 percent as a junior and on 5.7 attempts per game. That trajectory bodes well for Robinson's chances at the next level.

*He has a quick release on his jumper, giving him the ability to be effective on catch-and-shoot plays off screens. Robinson could develop into a reliable scorer who doesn't need the ball in his hands as a primary focus of the offense. He also showed the ability to throw down some powerful dunks and finish with creativity at the rim. He didn't record a vertical leap at the NBA Combine, but playing above and around the rim didn't appear to be a problem in college.

*Though it didn't show in his last season at Boston College, Robinson was adept at forcing turnovers in his first two years. He averaged 1.6 steals per game across his freshman and sophomore seasons and 16 times in his career had three steals or more in a game.

*Questions for Robinson would include his versatility and speed. Some draft evaluators wonder if he will be able to get separation off the dribble at the NBA level. Also, he put up decent rebounding and assists numbers in college but didn't exactly stand out in either category.

Fit with Wizards: Robinson would give the Wizards depth at the shooting guard position and they need that. He could help Bradley Beal pare down his minutes and offer a scoring punch off the Wizards' bench. The Wizards could use a reliable shooter to help space the floor for Kelly Oubre, Jr. and others in the second unit.

The problems with Robinson's fit would be his lack of positional versatility and what appears to be a relatively low ceiling. He's not the freak athlete that some of his counterparts are at shooting guard. If the Wizards are choosing between Robinson and guys like Zhaire Smith and Lonnie Walker IV, they could view the latter two as more enticing because of their potential. Robinson would represent a safer pick while others could pay off big-time and have a greater impact on the franchise in the long-term.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State

For more on the NBA Draft, check out our latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Draft prospect profiles on Moe Wagner, Michael Porter, Jr., Grayson Allen and more

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Draft prospect profiles on Moe Wagner, Michael Porter, Jr., Grayson Allen and more

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes was joined by Nick Ashooh and Stefon Marquis to talk NBA Draft. 

They broke down five prospects and their potential fit with the Wizards: Moe Wagner of Michigan, Michael Porter, Jr. of Missouri, Grayson Allen of Duke, Collin Sexton of Alabama and Omari Spellman of Villanova.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

MORE WIZARDS COVERAGE: