NEWARK, N.J. — Shortly before making his debut with the Wizards, Nene said he felt “nervous, but excited.”
That nervousness didn’t last long.
It took Nene all of 15 seconds to score the first points of the game — an easy layup over New Jersey Nets center Shelden Williams. He followed that up with a second easy bucket, and the Wizards were off and running, cruising to a 108-89 win over the Nets on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.
By the end of the first half, Nene had 14 points and five rebounds, and the Wizards already looked like a team transformed. He finished the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and one block.
“He knows how to play,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of his new center. “I told him before the game, I’m going to make a call and you’re going to look at me like, ‘What the heck is that?’ You just play. Find your open area, make the extra pass, be aggressive at the basket. Don’t think out there, just play basketball.”
Granted, playing the Nets (15-33) might not have been the best test of how the the new-look Wizards (11-34) will fare with Nene in the post in place of JaVale McGee, but a struggling opponent might have been a good place to start.
“The team gave me a lot of support,” Nene said. “I just tried to work hard and have fun with the new players. Right now, we have to get to know each other a little bit. Basketball is simple when you play the right way.
“This is a new beginning. After 10 years [with Denver,] I needed to turn the page.”
The Wizards now enter a particularly grueling stretch in their schedule — with two sets of five games in six nights. There won’t be a lot of practice time, so this revamped roster will have to come together pretty much on the fly.
While the Wizards began to jell, the Nets started falling apart. Midway through the third quarter, Nets point guard Deron Williams received two quick technicals for arguing a call with an official and was tossed from the game.
Moments later, Nets coach Avery Johnson took his turn at the officials and was ejected as well. The Wizards took full advantage.
John Wall looked more relaxed than he has all season and coupled that with an aggressive approach, scoring 12 points and adding eight assists.
Kevin Seraphin, who had no concerns about losing playing time with the arrival of Nene, played well with the second unit, and shared the court with Nene as well, forming a solid defensive tandem.
Seraphin has shown vast improvement in recent weeks and can only get better with an example like Nene to follow. He had 12 points and added three rebounds. Nene referred to Seraphin as “his little brother.”
“I like to play with him because he knows how to play basketball,” Seraphin said of Nene.
Jordan Crawford, who likes to shoot almost as much as the recently-traded Nick Young did, led the team with 23 points. Wittman elected to sit him for the entire fourth quarter, though, because he wanted to keep Roger Mason on the floor, as he had the hot hand. Mason scored 16 points.
“I’m getting more [playing] time and settling into rhythm here,” Mason said.
Leading the way for the Nets with 17 points was Deron Williams. Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Anthony Morrow each scored 13.
After the game, Wall sat smiling in the locker room and admitted that the addition of Nene could be exactly what this group needed.
“It was fun, interesting as well. He knows the game very well,” Wall said of playing with Nene. “It takes a lot of pressure off the guards if you can give somebody the ball in the low post who can score and also pass. Before, we just cut nonchalantly because nine times out of ten, you [weren’t] getting the ball back.”