With the Wizards down 2 to 1 in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals, Game 4 tonight is a make-or-break game. Going back to Indiana down 3 to 1 is essentially suicide, as the Pacers will have all of the momentum and goodwill on their side. Tonight’s game will come down to a few factors, however the most important is the play of Nene.
In his 11th year in the NBA, Nene has finally found the right team to play on. There were flashes of brilliance with the Denver Nuggets, however once the playoffs began, the Nuggets never seemed to make it over the hump. Now in a less competitive Eastern Conference, on a team with an All-Star in John Wall, a budding star in Bradley Beal and a plethora of solid contributors… now may be the last time for Nene to truly compete in the playoffs.
This season has been a difficult one for Nene. He was plagued by injuries all season, including a sprained knee ligament in late February. He ended up playing 53 games and missed a six-week stretch due to the injury. Thankfully, Nene returned right before the playoffs began and played some of the best basketball he has in quite some time.
As evidenced by the five-game series win over the Bulls, Nene is still one of the best and most talented big men in the NBA. He played some of the best basketball of his career against Joakim Noah, the Defensive Player of the Year, and was the catalyst for getting Washington into the second round.
His jump shot was one of the keys to that opening round. Being able to spread the floor and keep Noah away from the basket allowed Wall and Beal to get to the rim. Furthermore, it created problems for the Bulls’ defense.
Thus far, in the Indiana series, Nene has averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds a game, a significant drop from the last series. Also, his defensive play on David West and Roy Hibbert has been subpar. Nene was able to slack off against the Bulls offense because they don’t have many weapons. But the Pacers’ in comparison looks like the Showtime Lakers. Nene has been a big contributor on the offensive side of the floor, but he can’t allow West to get going by allowing him to get to his sweet spots right out of the gate.
The most important thing that Nene brings to the table however, is his veteran leadership. John Wall, in particular, has looked sluggish these past two games and it’s up to the elders on the squad to get him out of his downwards spiral. Tonight, Nene has to be the vocal leader on the court.
Trading for Nene was one of the first moments that the Wizards have been taken seriously in quite some time. He provides a sense of calm and intellect that not many players would be able to bring.
Nene’s career is chock-full of great moments. Let’s hope tonight he has another one.