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Wizards: Nene is 'the guy no one can guard' in this series

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Wizards: Nene is 'the guy no one can guard' in this series

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."

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Chris Paul is reportedly recruiting LeBron James to the Rockets, which would change East dramatically

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Chris Paul is reportedly recruiting LeBron James to the Rockets, which would change East dramatically

Next to actually signing LeBron James himself, there is another scenario involving the NBA's best player that should sound great to Eastern Conference teams. That is if James decides to leave the conference altogether for a team in the West, and it sounds like Chris Paul is trying to make that dream come true.

Paul, according to ESPN, is actively recruiting James to join the Houston Rockets. The Rockets won an NBA-best 65 games in the 2017-18 season and fell one win short of reaching the NBA Finals.

Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski said as transcribed by Pro Basketball Talk:

Chris is going to return there. And listen, right now, Chris Paul’s focus isn’t so much on his own free agency. He’s trying to recruit LeBron James to Houston, and somebody close to him said to me he is as focused on recruiting LeBron as anything he’s done in this league. He wants to find a way.

There's no doubt Houston would give James an opportunity to contend and maybe even win championships. They were up 3-2 on the Warriors in the conference finals before losing the final two games. Paul missed the last two games of the series due to injury.

If the Rockets were that close without James, adding him would likely push them over the hump. Even with the Warriors being as good as they are, the Rockets would be a super team on a level rarely seen in NBA history. James and Rockets guard James Harden are the two frontrunners for MVP. Then there's Paul, a perennial All-NBA guard who is a surefire Hall of Famer once his playing days are over.

If James went West, that would break the streak of his teams winning the Eastern Conference playoff bracket eight years in a row. The conference would be more wide open than it has been in nearly a decade, giving teams like the Sixers, Celtics, Raptors, Wizards and others a better shot at reaching the Finals.

One alternative is James leaving Cleveland to form another titan within the East. That could happen if he goes to Philly or Boston or somewhere else with some pieces already in place. It's conceivable that James stays in the East and does so with a team that is much better than the Cavs squad he led to the Finals this past season.

On the face of it, James would probably be smart to not go to Houston. As good as the Rockets are and as stacked as they would be if he joined them, he would then subject himself to battling the Warriors in the conference finals or earlier. If winning is his No. 1 goal, he is better off continuing to dominate the East and focus on improving his chances of beating the Warriors once he sees them in the Finals.

Still, Paul can dream. And if James does go West, no one in the East will complain.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Full 2018 NBA Draft preview for Wizards fans, including an interview with Robert Williams

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Full 2018 NBA Draft preview for Wizards fans, including an interview with Robert Williams

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller talked all things NBA Draft.

They gave their picks for the best options for the Wizards, the safest and riskiest prospects, plus what they expect the team to do. Texas A&M big man Robert Williams also joined the show in a 1-on-1 interview.

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!

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