Return to Wizards needed distraction for Nene

Return to Wizards needed distraction for Nene
October 21, 2013, 4:30 pm
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Nene's on-court adjustment period restarted Saturday night against the Pelicans. No Emeka Okafor means more minutes at center for the Brazilian big man.

Focusing on basketball regardless of position serves as a welcome distraction.

Following Washington's preseason game in Brazil, Nene stayed behind in his home country for a few days as his father is dealing with a serious illness.

Those 23 minutes of playing time against New Orleans, the Monday practice session before the team heads to Detroit for their penultimate preseason game. For Nene, it's a combination of needed work with the regular season less than 10 days away and a diversion from what's taking place back home.

"Man, after what I've been through right now, it's good to be close to my team," Nene said Monday at the Verizon Center. "Try and think positive. I know a lot of negative things outside. ...Just try to keep my mind and help my team. That's what I can do right now."

His Wizards family is helping with the support on this end.

"The emotions of the trip and the things that he’s dealing with family wise - and now this is his family, too," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "As I said in the press conference (in Brazil), we love him here. We care about him and I think getting back here is a comforting thing for him. All of the guys feel the same way and kind of expressed that to him, too, when he was gone those five days." 

After missing the previous two preseason games, Nene had 10 points and eight rebounds against the Pelicans, the first team to outrebound Washington this preseason. 

The fact that the Wizards have stood strong on the boards and defensively without Okafor, their leading rebounder and shot blocker last season, is impressive. Until Okafor returns, Nene can expect to remain in the middle rather than his customary power forward role. 

"It's a little hard, it's a little different," Nene said. "We tried doing our best. The whole team trying to do our best. Try to close the gap, the big hole. That's what we can control. We can play hard, give our best. Everything else we leave to our manager and to the coach."

As for what is different from one interior position to the next, think of like this: Last season against power players like Indiana's Roy Hibbert or Detroit's Andre Drummond, Okafor primarily took on that pounding responsibility. Until Okafor returns, it's Nene's task.

"My function is different," said the 31-year-old. "That's why they have Emeka here to play physical, grab a rebound, to take all the pressure from my back. But he's not here. We can't wait for him. We can count on the people who's here."

Wittman doesn't view the change as anything significant and hopes Nene doesn't alter his approach regardless of position.

"You don’t want him to be anything different at either spot" the coach said. "He’s able to be a facilitator, he’s able to be a scorer. He doesn’t have a problem defending either spot.

"Probably, he would have a little more problem defending the four spot than the five in my opinion. In terms of if you get a stretch four out on the floor. I don’t want him to think differently, because he’s going to play both spots and again, he’s a forward. We’ll play three forwards at times. I think you’ve seen us do that (at) times. I’ve had Al (Harrington) at five in some stretches. No, I don’t look at it any differently because he’s there."

For now Nene's focused on being a good soldier, a leader for his D.C. family.

"Everybody do your best, everybody give a little bit extra," he said. "We need to bring it, we need to bring it because nobody is going to give anything to us. We need to take them."