The Washington Wizards managed to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference without Nene, who was sidelined for over 6 weeks with an MCL sprain, but it’s no secret that the Wizards are a better team with him in the lineup.
While Trevor Booker, Al Harrington and even Drew Gooden all stepped up in Nene’s absence, Washington’s defense had slipped without him, and they’ll certainly need to be at their best against the Chicago Bulls.
Washington had won four straight games to close out the season, all with Nene coming off the bench. Now that the NBA Playoffs are beginning, it seems like the plan is to have Nene back with the starting crew–according to J.Michael of CSN Washington.
Nene is supposed to talk after Saturday’s practice, before the Wizards hop on a flight to Chicago where they’ll open Game 1 of the playoffs, but there’s no real mystery about his status Sunday. While it’s not official, the plan is for him to be starting at power forward for the first time since Feb. 23.
The Wizards have to find a way to match the intensity of Joakim Noah, and I think it’s safe to say Nene is the most physical big man on Washington’s roster. Marcin Gortat had trouble defending Noah out on the perimeter, which is where he creates most of the offense for Chicago, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Nene guard Noah at times.
As Mike Prada pointed out, the Wizards are going to have to get a bit more creative with their rotations, especially since they’re typically shortened in the playoffs. Will Trevor Booker be the first big off the bench, or will Wittman decide to space the floor with Al Harrington? Regardless, Washington should have options. It will likely depend on the flow of the game, especially if the Bulls end up getting a rebounding advantage. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if Booker continues to get a substantial about of minutes during the playoffs.
Washington is finally at full strength, so it’s no surprise that Nene will be back in the starting lineup. It’s almost go time.