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Where's Nene? Wizards' big man yet to show up vs. Hawks

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Where's Nene? Wizards' big man yet to show up vs. Hawks

ATLANTA -- The puzzle the Wizards have yet to solve is how to make Nene a factor instead of a liability in this second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks. Though the series is tied 1-1, Nene has gone 0-for-2.

Nene has produced Roy Hibbert-like stats in two games: 0-for-9 shooting, two points, seven rebounds and six turnovers. 

"He's got to fight through it. He's got to play through it," coach Randy Wittman said about the 7-foot power forward's struggles. "Things in this world aren't perfect. When you struggle like that you got to play harder, be more concentrated. It's a thing that any player goes through. It's just so happened that these first two games he's struggled. We need him to step up. And he will. I have confidence that that will happen."

When Nene has had performance issues in the past, unless he was limited by a foot injury, Wittman has stuck with his veteran in the starting lineup. Where he has adjusted has been in how long he will stick with Nene before going to Plan B. 

So what would that be? Drew Gooden is the first big off the bench for Nene which gives the Wizards a different look. He has three-point range, can beat his man off the dribble and create an up-tempo style that they need vs. the small-ball looks from Atlanta. Kris Humphries had been ahead of Gooden in the rotation most of the season but has appeared just once in six postseason games. He doesn't have a post-up game of Nene or Gooden's three-point range.

The other option is to stick with small lineups, either with Pierce at power forward with Otto Porter as the small forward and bringing in Rasual Butler in relief to keep the floor spread for John Wall (if he can play with his left wrist), Ramon Sessions and Bradley Beal to get into the paint.

Nene was a different player in the first two games of a first-round sweep of the Toronto Raptors. He set the tone by averaging 11 rebounds as the Wizards won both on the road. The Hawks, however, have more versatile bigs in All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford.  Both can score away from the basket on face-ups, shoot from long range, attack off the bounce and rebound with abandon.

"Nene's fine. He'll be good," Beal said. "I think he's thinking a lot, kind of pressing himself a little bit. But he's fine. He just needs to do what we know he's capable of doing, that's dominating and being the best big on the floor. He has to clear his mind of all things."

[RELATED Leonsis will shave his head if Wizards, Caps reach finals]

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5 must-see moments from the Wizards' blowout win over the Cavs, including John Wall owning Collin Sexton

5 must-see moments from the Wizards' blowout win over the Cavs, including John Wall owning Collin Sexton

The Washington Wizards blasted the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-95 on Wednesday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Wall vs Sexton: This game featured a matchup between one of the sport's most accomplished point guards and one who is just getting his career started. John Wall of the Wizards and Collin Sexton of the Cavs went at it and, not surprisingly, Wall had the edge on the rookie.

The five-time All-Star only scored eight points, but two of them came on a play that made Sexton show his inexperience. Wall zoomed down the court and had Sexton way off balance as he backpedaled towards the rim:

 

In addition to eight points, Wall had nine assists, two steals, and a block. He played only 21 minutes because the Wizards were able to rest their starters late due to the blowout.

2. Beal's big dunk: Bradley Beal put up some impressive numbers for a guy who only played 28 minutes. He posted 20 points with three assists, three rebounds, and three steals. He also hit his 900th career three-pointer.

This was his best play, a two-handed slam that Jordan Clarkson wanted no part of:

Speaking of Clarkson, what the heck was this, man?

3. Oubre's block: Kelly Oubre Jr. only shot 3-for-11, but did a lot of other things to help the Wizards win. He pulled in seven rebounds, had a steal and a block.

His block was nasty:

4. Mahinmi's first three: This was the most memorable moment of the night. Ian Mahinmi, playing in his 11th season and his 556th regular season, knocked down his first career three-pointer.

As we learned afterward, Wall set it all up. He told Mahinmi to go to the corner and, sure enough, it worked:

5. Beal's and-1: Beal had eight of his 20 points in the third quarter as the Wizards held off the Cavs' final push. This play was a good example of how he was just plain feeling it.

The Cavs had no hope in stopping him get to the rim for an and-1:

The Wizards have now won three straight games. At 5-9, they are only one game out of a playoff spot, which is crazy to think about given how poorly they started off the year.

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Ian Mahinmi's first ever 3-pointer a fun, proud moment for Wizards

Ian Mahinmi's first ever 3-pointer a fun, proud moment for Wizards

Ian Mahinmi is in the middle of his 11th NBA season. He has appeared in 623 total games, including the playoffs. Yet, until Wednesday night, he had never made a single three-point shot in an NBA game that counted.

With just over a minute left in the first half of the Wizards' win over the Cavs, Mahinmi stepped back behind the line in the weakside corner. John Wall drove to the elbow to collapse the defense and fired him a pass. Wide open, Mahinmi rose and released like he had done it many times before.

Technically, he had. Mahinmi has been working on his three-point shot persistently. At the end of every Wizards practice, he can be seen going around the horn popping threes.

In practice, Mahinmi makes long range shots consistently. Head coach Scott Brooks has put the number at around 70 out of 100 on his best days. Mahinmi even made a few this preseason, suggesting it might actually happen in a regular season game this year.

Sure enough, it did.

"It's something I work on. I work on threes and especially from the corners. It's good to see one finally go in," Mahinmi said.

Mahinmi had attempted two threes already this season. One clanged off the side off the backboard. The second rolled in and out of the rim.

Mahimni said the second attempt was actually a designed play to get him a three-point look. On this one, Wall called his number again.

Mahinmi said Wall told him to go to the corner. The team was up 20 points and it was late in the first half. 

The stars had aligned. It just seemed like the right time.

"Obviously, I was looking for it," Mahinmi said. "If the ball comes my way, I'm shooting it."

Brooks has expressed confidence in Mahinmi's outside shooting ability for months now. And he reiterated after Wednesday's game that Mahinmi has the green light.

"I want Ian to shoot threes if he's open," Brooks said. "He practices that every day. We see it go in every day. The league is changing. It's not just a small-ball league for the smalls."

That last point was not lost on others around the Wizards locker room. When Mahinmi entered the league in 2007, centers were expected to camp around the rim. He was asked to block shots and play with his back to the basket. 

In the decade-plus since, new species of big men have flowed into the NBA. Many of them hit threes, leap high above the rim and break down defenders off the dribble.

Mahinmi, though fully-developed at 32 years old, isn't letting that stop him. He has added a three-point shot that opponents have to at least know is possible to go in.

"He's adapted to the game and that's not easy at his position because they try to kick fives out of the league," guard Bradley Beal said.

No one expects Mahinmi to all of a sudden become Dirk Nowitzki and hit threes all the time. It was a small moment that probably won't mean much in the big picture.

Still, it was a reason for him and his teammates to celebrate.

"I'm glad to see him do that," center Dwight Howard said. "I'm so happy for him."

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