Washington Wizards power forward Nene is sidelined for six weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee. The injury happened Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nene was unable to walk off the court causing Wizards training staff to speculate a torn ligament diagnosis. An MRI on Nene’s knee confirmed the relative good news. The loss of Nene to injury causes concern for the Wizards as they battle for playoff contention.
A six-week recovery would label Nene as DNP for 21 games. 12 of these 21 games are against opponents with a below .500 record. Winnable for a 28-28 Wizards team who sits in the five-spot after a current three game win streak. A boom or bust Wizards team that made a move for Andre Miller at the trade deadline is hunting for playoff position between four and six. The injury to Nene forms a ceiling on the streaking Wizards team. An accurate six-week timetable would see Nene returning with five games remaining in the regular season.
Nene is a veteran on the court, but unfortunately also in the training room. Nene suffered torn knee ligaments while playing for the Denver Nuggets in 2005. When Nene is on the floor the Wizards are 60-61, a viable record for the mediocre East Coast, without him 1-6.
Nene’s strength is his defense in the paint and passing ability. With Nene anchoring the paint, the Wizards won games with top 10 defense. Nene helped limit opposing offenses to single shot possessions while John Wall and Trevor Ariza magically forced steals. Without Nene the Wizards lack the power to trap a fly. Nene’s 3 assists per game tied him for fourth best in the league. A valuable asset when Bradley Beal, a marksman shooter, is hovering the three-point line.
Replacement production at power forward will fall upon Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, and Al Harrington. None of these front court players have the defensive prowess or passing capabilities of Nene. The Wizards will have to count on their backcourt of Beal and Wall to light up the scoreboard and carry their team to playoff contention while Nene is injured.
The eastern conference has underperformed all year. The Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, and Atlanta Hawks each have records below .500. A sub par record will earn entrance into the playoffs this year, but a first round loss is 99.9 percent guaranteed for the seven or eight seed. The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers have the first and third best records in the league.
The Wizards must finish as a six seed or above for a playoff run to happen. With Nene in the training room a climb up the playoff ladder is unlikely. The Wizards will make the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons play 10 teams over .500 in their next 13 games and the Cavaliers are less reliable than Taco Bell breakfast. This leaves the five through eight seeds. Final prediction in order is Nets, Bobcats, Wizards, and Hawks. Nets jump the Wizards because of playoff tested veteran leadership as well as the Bobcats who have won four in a row and seven of last 10 behind phenomenal play by Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker.
Washington losing Nene greatly impacts the Wizards playoff contention. Backcourt and role players will have to step up to save the season.
Commentary by Niles Olson