It was a conversation no one dared to interrupt. In the wake of the Wizards' 87-84 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday at Verizon Center, Nene and Kevin Seraphin sat huddled, their facial expressions offering just a hint of what the two big men were discussing.
Nene did most of the talking, while Seraphin nodded his head in understanding. Afterword, neither player chose to reveal the content of their conversation, until Thursday's practice.
"Nene was mad at me," Seraphin said. "He's like the leader right now. He tries to build, he tries to help the team the best way. He really thinks I'm an important player for this team, and I've been struggling for, like, the last five games, and he told me that."
Seraphin began the season playing like an All-Star. He had two solid games against Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett, and so intimidated opposing teams that he was starting to draw double and triple teams. After scoring in double figures for six straight games, beginning with San Antonio on Nov. 26, Seraphin has been in double figures just once in the last four games.
He's at a loss to explain his struggles.
"I don't know right now," Seraphin said. "I just try to play hard, and my shot doesn't go through. I try to get my confidence back from this morning. We work with the coach. He talks to me on the pick and roll and everything. So, we just try, the coach, Nene, we try to get it back."
Far more troubling than missed shots is Seraphin's inability to get to the free-throw line. In 25 games, he has been to the line just 19 times. By contrast, Nene, who has played in 14 games, has been to the line 87 times.
In Wednesday's loss, Seraphin played just 12 minutes. He went 2 for 6 for two points and had zero rebounds, zero assists and never got to the line.
"I'm supposed to be ready for the game," Seraphin said. "I'm supposed to play good. He [Nene] said, 'Maybe if you was playing good, maybe we got more chance to win the game.' That's what he told me. He was just like, he was mad. He told me how he feels, and I just respect that."
Coach Randy Wittman probably uses a tougher approach with Seraphin than any other player but says Seraphin prefers it that way.
"He and I have got a special relationship, trust me," Wittman said. "He's a young kid that's going through a tough year. The pressures of losing another close game has an effect on young guys, but he's got to learn. It's his third year. He's got to learn to deal with it."
What Wittman needs — and expects — from Seraphin is consistency, whether starting or coming off the bench.
"We've got to get some production out of Kevin, Jan [Vesely], Chris [Singleton]," Wittman said. "We are still limited with minutes on Nene. I can't play him like I normally would play a guy like him, so we've got to have other guys make up for that."
As practice came to a close Thursday, Seraphin was the last player to leave the court, as he put up shot after shot. Wittman was watching from the sideline, with Nene seated next to him.
They were deep in conversation.
Nene's influence on the team is obvious, but nowhere is it more important than his ability to connect with Seraphin.
"Nene just needs to continue to mentor him," Wittman said. "They sit next to each other in the locker room, they talk a lot, but [Seraphin's] got to listen. Being guys that are not from here, Nene being from Brazil and Kevin being from France, Nene's a guy that's come over here and learned how to play and be a consistently good player for many years. Hopefully, that will help."
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