When former Denver Nuggets’ center Nene discovered he was being shipped to the Washington Wizards, it would have been understood if he felt disappointed, after coming from a team that is consistently playoff-bound to a team that is a yearly NBA Lottery Draft contender. However, after experiencing a tough defeat to the Indiana Pacers (27-18) Thursday, when the Wizards led by as many as 22-points, Nene is optimistic and sees potential in this young Washington group. Question is—does this young team, led by guards John Wall and Jordan Crawford, see their potential greatness with Nene providing leadership?
“It was a sour taste. You learn from this kind of loss,” said Nene after the game. “We had an amazing first half but we didn’t do enough to win tonight. I’m proud of the group. We saw the potential, especially with how well we played in the first half. It’s a step-by-step process. We have to learn from our mistakes and learn from this loss. We have to stick together, play hard and continue to have a tough mindset.”
Other than experience, the Wizards (11-35) lacked leadership and a veteran presence—which everyone respects.
Quickly Nene, 29, has established himself in the paint, as a facilitator first, to create spacing and great ball movement for the Wizards. The Wizards did well against the New Jersey Nets (15-33) when Nene debuted for Washington, as they won by 19-points on Mar. 21. Nene had 22 points in 31 minutes.
Nene entered the game against the Pacers, the same way he has since his career started in the NBA nine years ago as an establisher of the paint. The Wizards quickly got off to a great start to eventually have a 20-point lead against a tired Pacers’ team.
Enter the third quarter.
What worked the night before against the Nets and at the start of the contest against the Pacers, the Wizards went away from Nene and the system to revert to their normal ways of not rotating the ball for one-on-one matchups, which lead to bad shots. The actions of ball handlers in Wall and Crawford allowed the Pacers to slowly creep back into the game to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
“It was disappointing to lose this game after battling the way we did,” said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman. “It became a struggle for us after that first quarter offensively. We really ran things, got out in transition, made shots during the first half. Indiana struggled in the first half offensively, then they got their rhythm going a little bit and we lost ours in the second half.
“Indiana is a good team. Sometimes when you score easily which we did in the first quarter, you think it’s going to be that way the whole night,” he added. “I thought that we got away from doing what had worked in the first half, working to get open to create the next stop. We started our offense at half court three or four times the last five minutes of the game.”
Hopefully, Nene’s new teammates recognize his value as a leader, for he can help make the game easier for the younger players around him, but it must start with Wall. For the same amount of minutes played in the game against Nets, Nene finished with six points against the Pacers.
The Wizards had a chance at scoring the game winner or sending the game into overtime. Consequently, too much dribbling in the final seconds by Wall proved to be a little piece of a huge problem (selfishness) that could continue to bring the Wizards down.
This is why Wall and the Wizards must learn to work with Nene to improve and be taken seriously as a team.
“We are still getting used to how he plays,” said Wall. “We know when he post up he likes to look for a cuter. We have to start giving the ball up and cutting to the basket and keep our spacing. He’s a really good passer and we will see that once we all get used to his game.”
Barry Barnes is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.