Wake-up call: Nene ready to reclaim starting job

Wake-up call: Nene ready to reclaim starting job
April 19, 2014, 6:00 am
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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.

"Everybody is available," is all coach Randy Wittman would say after Friday's practice. It's typical for him to be evasive about lineup adjustments. 

Nene went down with a left knee ligament strain and missed 21 games before returning April 9. Playing on a self-imposed minutes restriction, he has appeared in four of five games, only resting for the second game of a back-to-back set. 

Averaging 21 minutes as a reserve, Nene scored double figures in each game. He averaged 14.2 points -- equal to his season average -- and made 25 of 38 shots, or 65.7%. 

That puts Trevor Booker, who has started and played well in Nene's place, back on the bench. The question becomes whether or not Wittman can find minutes in his rotation for him considering how well Booker has played. With Nene playing behind him, Booker has made 29 of 39 shots in this stretch for 74.3%. 

Booker has played so well that Drew Gooden, who sparked the Wizards when he was acquired as a free agent three days after Nene's injury, has fallen out of the rotation. Al Harrington has recovered from right knee surgery and is finally playing like the stretch-4 they hoped he'd be when he was signed in August. 

Of course, depending on the matchups and Wittman's desire to spread the floor with shooters, Gooden can jump back in the mix quickly.

Nene forces Chicago to defend them differently, and his size and physical play makes him a better matchup for the likes of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. 

"Having him definitely helps us just because of everything he brings to the table," shooting guard Bradley Beal said. "You can kind of compare him to Joak just in terms of his passing. Nene is a great passer. Nene can shoot the ball, score in the low post. He's a great defender, too. He brings a lot of intangibles to the table that we need."