Perhaps it was the return of Nene. Or the chance to play the role of spoiler for a team with an outside chance to make the playoffs. Whatever the motivation, the Wizards got off to a strong start and maintained their energy throughout, defeating the ninth-place Milwaukee Bucks 121-112 on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
Nene provided just the right spark off the bench, scoring 14 points on 7 for 12 shooting and was aggressive on both ends of the floor, despite missing the last 10 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
“It was great,” Nene said of his return.”It was bad, because I took his minutes,” Nene joked, as he pointed to Kevin Seraphin. “It was great because I was able to help the team. The win was sweet after Milwaukee beat us three times. These guys, they stepped up when me and Booker [were] out. They are playing really good, and showing what we are capable of doing.”
Nene has made more progress in his recovery than Trevor Booker, who is sidelined with the same injury, and is still listed as day-to-day. The Wizards are also unlikely to see the return of Andray Blatche (conditioning) or Rashard Lewis (knee) during the team’s final four games.
Without Roger Mason Jr., who was released on Monday after having surgery on his left index finger, it falls on Nene and Maurice Evans to provide some veteran leadership to a team struggling to finish off the season on a high note. Evans provided a spark as well, scoring seven points.
“We’re playing very well as a team, and guys are still motivated,” Evans said. “We’re not playing for the playoffs, but it just shows the character of the team.”
Shortly before the morning shootaround, Wizards coach Randy Wittman said he didn’t want his players to go into the offseason with a bad taste in their mouths. Against the Bucks, coupled with Monday’s upset over the Bulls in Chicago, the Wizards are making the strides Wittman is looking for in order to finish the season the right way.
The Wizards shot 55.2 percent and stalled a fourth-quarter charge by the Bucks, who cut the lead to four. Despite playing with a sprained ankle, Jordan Crawford led the way with 30 points, tying his season high, while Monta Ellis had 31 for the Bucks.
“I think we’re just playing good at this time,” Crawford said. “We got Nene back, we picked up a lot of great players that compliment us well. I think this is the first time you’re getting to see how good we can be.”
Chris Singleton also had a solid game, scoring 10 points, including an emphatic slam dunk in the closing seconds.
The Wizards 112 points was their second highest total of the season, and first time they scored more than 100 point since April 9. The road only gets tougher for the Wizards, though, as they travel to Miami to face the Heat on Saturday.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” Wittman said. “I said before the game, to really make the win over Chicago special, we need to come home and win this game. Considering this was a team that was fighting for its playoff life, I’m proud of how these guys have come out and stood up to these teams.
“They might like it [being spoilers] the way they’re playing. We want to be in the hunt. But if we’re not, lets cause some grief coming down the stretch.”