Similar to what coach Randy Wittman had to do with John Wall in the middle of the playoffs last season when he struggled, the same took place with Nene in this second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks.
"We talked. Listen, it's been talked about," Wittman said after Sunday's practice, explaining what led to Nene's outburst of 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists in Saturday's 103-101 Game 3 victory vs. Atlanta. "That's part of coaching. He made a conscious effort."
Game 4 is tonight at Verizon Center and the Wizards, who are undefeated in three home playoff games, have a chance to take a stranglehold on the No. 1 team in the East.
Nene had a renewed focus and made the Hawks pay. They had to start Pero Antic in place of Paul Millsap, who had flu-like symptoms. Nene feasted as he made six consecutive field goals during a stretch in the first half. Along with Marcin Gortat's 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots, the duo was unstoppable against the undersized opponent.
Nene shot 0-for-9 for just two points in the first two games of the series. He had just seven total rebounds and six turnovers.
"We don't get lost in numbers. I get lost in aggression," Wittman said. "His 17 were good but is it always going to be 17? I hope but maybe not. But his aggression has to be the same. He's going to find people if they double. He's going to kick the ball out, get fouled. Our bigs were much more in tune to running the floor early to get set up for quick feeds in transition to attack."
For his part, Nene has remained surly. He has heard the criticism of his play, accepted a reduced role in the offense which has allowed Gortat more touches and overcome right knee and foot soreness all season.
"It was hard but I learned from adversity," Nene said in a curt tone. "I just trying to be me."
Rather than smiling about his performance, the 7-footer scowled and then stormed out of the locker room.
"Nene put his stamp on the game early in the paint, started the game with a left-hand hook, started to get to the free throw line, really putting the pressure on their bigs," said Drew Gooden, his primary backup. "We're a deep team. You can't just put the onus on Nene if he plays good or plays bad. We're deep. We got guys to step in and have our teammates' backs. If he doesn't have it going one night, we have faith in other guys to get it done for us. When he's playing like that we're definitely a better team."
Ramon Sessions, who has replaced the injured John Wall (left wrist) as the starting point guard, kept feeding him.
"The big fella was rolling, got us going, it brought smiles to everybody's face. That was the plan," Sessions said. "Not just scoring the ball, he made good passes, passing out of double-teams. When the big guy is going like that is tough no matter who's out there on the court really."
Bradley Beal wants to see more of this Nene, who averaged 11 rebounds in the first two games of a first-round series sweep of the Toronto Raptors. It was Nene's play that set the tone and led to Gortat shooting 74.3%.
"That's the Nene we need each and every game, the guy no one can guard no matter who you put on him," Beal said. "He's going to score. He's going to make plays."