HOUSTON — Nene is easy to spot after every Wizards game. The 6-foot-11 Brazilian big man almost always will be seated in front of his locker soaking his feet in a tub of ice. While his teammates usually head straight to the showers, Nene takes his time. He soaks his feet and waits. Waits for his feet to cool off, for the swelling to subside, and the pain to feel numbed by the icy water.
He also uses this time to reflect on Washington’s struggles and the young players who look to him as a mentor. Before the Wizards played their fourth back-to-back of the season against the Rockets on Wednesday, Nene reflected on what this season has been like.
“It’s a hard process in my career,” Nene said. “It’s a really hard situation I’ve been through. I know God put me here for something. I just try to think, work hard for the next day. Right now, what I can do, what I can control is to put ice on my foot and on my knee and try to feel better from the cold.”
Nene recorded his first double-double of the season Tuesday in a 77-70 win over the New Orleans Hornets, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds, but the 10-year veteran stopped looking at the stat sheets years ago.
“I don’t care about that,” Nene said. “I care about wins. I care about [having] my teammates’ backs. That’s what I care about.”
Nene declined to put a percentage on his conditioning level but did say he’s still working his way into game shape, and that he feels like he’s going through training camp. The killer schedule, specifically the back-to-backs, doesn’t help. The Wizards are in the midst of playing four games in five nights two weeks in a row.
“This schedule,” Nene said as he shook his head, “is crazy.”
“The last back-to-back I couldn’t jump,” he added. “Today, I could jump a little bit. I don’t know how I’m going to be [Wednesday]. I just try to play hard and be positive. It’s crazy you know, the situation.”
Nene has been hampered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot almost since the day he arrived in Washington at last season’s trading deadline. The recurring ailment cost him 10 games last season, and he’s played in just eight of the Wizards’ 18 games this season.
“After every game, I have to pick it up and see how my foot feels the next day,” Nene said. “Sometimes it feels really bad. Sometimes I sit down and the coach needs to do the game plan for me.”
Wizards coach Randy Wittman says he leaves it up to Nene to tell him how he’s feeling and together they come up with a plan to adjust his practice time and his playing time. With injuries to other players mounting, the Wizards can ill afford to lose Nene again.
“Our plan is to keep building up the minutes and practice,” Wittman said. “[He’ll be fine], once you get that stamina and get that strength back in your legs, the explosion back in your legs. He doesn’t have that right now, but he’s still such a factor on the floor for us, defensively as well as offensively.”
Through eight games, Nene is averaging 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. He’s playing 20.9 minutes per game which, at times, is a bit more than his left foot can handle. But his presence is so valuable on and off the court, he plans to keep giving it his best and working his way back, one step at a time.
“We’re still working him in,” Wittman said. “His legs aren’t where they need to be. His lift around the rim, it’s not Nene’s lift. But it’s a process, a process he’s got to keep staying with.”