Originally Published: November 26, 2013

1. Nene, Wall Soaring For Revived Wizards

By Kyle Weidie | TrueHoop Network

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two weeks ago, Nene Hilario said that his young Washington Wizards teammates needed to "take their heads out their butts and play the right way." He later apologized for saying such publicly, but the message seemingly did the trick -- for the unnamed targets of his words to some extent, but especially for Nene. Since then, the 12-year veteran has been on a tear, tallying three 20-point games and, on Tuesday night, a career-high 30 points in Washington's 116-111 win over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers.

You could speculate that John Wall was one recipient of Nene's words. It wouldn't be the first time a veteran Wizards big man stepped up to say something to him; Emeka Okafor did so last season. After Nene aired his frustrations to the media, Wall has won the Eastern Conference player of the week award, scored 99 points over the past three games, and most notably, the Wizards have won four out of five.

John Wall
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsJohn Wall and the Wizards could be emerging from a rough run of futility.

"Ever since that altercation -- everybody thought it was big when he called out the young guys -- Nene's been playing great basketball for our team. And that's something we need," Wall said after Nene's big night against Los Angeles. "We like the effort he's giving us on defense and offense, and you just gotta keep it going for the rest of the season."

Coming into D.C. in an arena half-full with their own fans and riding a three-game winning streak, Lakers guards Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar did their best to admirably get the Mike D'Antoni offense moving, as did Pau Gasol with eight assists. But Nene and Wall, along with Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster, were too much. The Wizards made a concerted effort to run offense through Nene in the post from the tip, and when not practicing more patience in the half court, Wall turned on his boosters and led his team to outpace L.A. 21-7 in fastbreak points.

"We know our team is deadly in transition," said Wall, whose team ranks second in the league in fast-break points per game. "But whenever we're not in transition, we definitely want to get the ball inside-outside in a half-court situation, because we know we have two great low-post presences [Nene and Gortat] that can score the ball and are willing passers."

It was Wall's efforts in the half court which came through late, 11 of his 31 points came in the final 4:40 of action in a five-point victory.

Nene was equally complimentary of his young teammate. "I'm more happy for John. Because, man, that kid's been balling in the last weeks. To have this conversation, he understands his position. And he puts everybody on the spot [on offense]. He reads [the defense] right."

After ever-looming injury question marks last season, Wall and Nene are finally on a healthy streak. On nights like Tuesday against the road-tripping Lakers, they are enough to make Washington competitive. But the duo often combining for 61 points isn't sustainable. Despite improving chemistry among teammates, the Wizards have major issues in the personnel department and a coach, Randy Wittman, with nary an option past logging heavy minutes to a tight rotation of players just 14 games into the season.

Wittman's Wizards woke up to bad news on Tuesday morning. Stud sophomore guard Bradley Beal was declared out at least two weeks due to a stress injury in his right fibula. A similar injury to the same fibula caused Beal to miss the end of his rookie season and much of this past summer. Beal was leading the Wizards in scoring and was responsible for 30 percent of the made 3-pointers on a top-10 NBA 3-point shooting team. Beal was also leading the NBA in average minutes and distance traveled per game (that last stat thanks to the NBA's player-tracking camera technology).

A maldeveloped roster and injuries otherwise were already forcing Wittman to turn to unheard of bench units. The last couple of games have prominently featured just Eric Maynor, Garrett Temple and Jan Vesely off the pine. Yes, those three. In the past five games, Washington's bench has managed only 46 total points. But they've managed to win four of those games.

Logging heavy time likely contributed to Beal's injury, just as prematurely playing on a sprained ankle last season led to his original stress injury. Wall missed the first 33 games of last season due to a stress injury to his left patella. Welcome to Washington, where basketballs are always dribbled on eggshells and coaching for one's life literally stresses players out to the bone.

"This was just another gut, you know, pull out a game. Tight game, it's anybody's game coming down the stretch," Wittman said from a position of postgame relief. He'll have at least 60 more games this season, and they won't all be relieving.

A win was much more important to the now 6-8 Wizards than the loss was detrimental to the now 7-8 Lakers. For a change, the pressure is greater in Washington. "Playoffs or bust" has been bandied about so much that Wizards team owner, Ted Leonsis, recently philosophized: "Playoffs or bust, what does that mean? Shut the team down if we don't make the playoffs for the Wizards?"

For the coach of his basketball team, it means everything. Wittman, and more prominently, Ernie Grunfeld, who has run Washington's basketball operations since 2003, are both in the last seasons of their current contracts.

The Wizards finally have the right talent under a much-improved culture with heads in the right place, leaving those in the organization top-down praying for health since the preseason. Unfortunately, what it takes for Washington to stay afloat now might cause the ship to sink later. Until then, at least the John Wall and Nene Show (and Bradley Beal, whenever he returns) provides the nation's capital with its best pro basketball product in years.

Kyle Weidie writes for Truth About It, part of the TrueHoop Network.

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