No Nene No Problem

No Nene…No Problem. The Wizards were able to take a commanding 3-1 series lead dominating the Bulls 98-89. Trevor Ariza had the hot hand all day scoring a playoff career high 30 points. John Wall recorded his first career playoff double double with 15 points and 10 assists, while Bradley Beal chipped in 18. The absence of the big Brazilian didn’t seem to affect the offense as the Wizards got off to a blistering pace jumping out to a 14-0 run to start the game. The score wasn’t truly indicative of the game as the Wizards dominated the offensively challenged Bulls.

Chicago struggled to generate any consistent offense outside of Taj Gibson who led all scorers with 32 points, shooting an impressive 13 of 16 from the field. Four year vet Trevor Booker filled Nene’s starting spot amicable providing the Wizards with relentless hustle and toughness inside. Booker, who fouled out with five minutes remaining, finished with eight points and nine boards. Marcin “The Polish Machine” Gortat filled up the box score with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.  

The Wizards will look to close out the series Tuesday when they head back north to the United Center. Even if the Bulls manage to win game five, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Wizards don’t advance to the next round. Since the switch to a seven game playoff format, only eight teams were able to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and move on to the next round. Assuming they go through to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Wizards would await the winner of the Pacers Hawks series which is currently deadlocked at 2 games apiece. The upstart Wizards are peaking at the perfect time and have to feel good about their chances at advancing to the Eastern Conference finals where they will like find an old playoff nemesis and the 2 time defending champion Miami Heat. 

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Wizards Must Move On Without Nene For 4-6 Weeks

In a season of resurgence, the Wizards have just been dealt a potentially devastating blow. After receiving a MRI Monday, Big man Nene has been ruled out for four to six weeks with a left knee sprain. When Nene, an 11th year vet, struggles with injuries the Wizards usually follow suit. Since acquiring Nene in 2012, the Wizards are 60-61 when Nene plays and 9-34 when he doesn’t. That is a monstrous disparity and could spell trouble for the Wizards going forward. Nene’s contributions this season have been invaluable, averaging 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 30.3 minutes per game this season. In addition to his scoring and rebounding, Nene gives the Wizards much needed height and leadership alongside center Marcin Gortat.

In response to Nene’s injury, the Wizards have signed veteran forward Drew Gooden to a ten day contract giving them some much needed front court depth. Coach Randy Wittman will have to rely heavily on third year forwards Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin to shoulder the load in Nene’s absence. While Seraphin and Booker are suitable backups, neither can emulate Nene’s savvy basketball IQ or his low post presence. Seraphin is a decent scorer, but is a defensive liability and Booker is an all hustle player with limited potential to improve his skill set. Luckily, veteran forward Al Harrington has recently returned to the lineup after a knee injury sidelined him nearly three months. Harrington is still working him back into playing shape, but should be able to dispel Booker and Seraphin, allowing the Wizards to space the floor with his outside shot.

Even if Booker and Seraphin admirably step into Nene’s role, the Wizards will only go as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal will take them. With just 25 games remaining in the season, the Wizards are deeply rooted within the playoff race currently holding the fifth seed. Nene’s injury couldn’t have come at worse time for the Wizards, but there is optimism that he will be available and healthy for the playoffs should the Wizards hold onto their spot. For now the Wizards must continue to make do with what they have and hope to get contributions across the board.