Bulls trail Wizards 2-1; Wizards lose one of their wizards


Apr 26

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No, no Nene for the Washington Wizards noon Sunday in Game 4 of the first round playoff series against the Bulls.

And the Wizards, leading 2-1 in the series, have to be shaking their head and exclaiming, “Oh, no Nene!”

That’s because the NBA Saturday afternoon announced a one-game suspension for the Wizards’ big man who had been the star of the first two wins for the Wizards in the United Center.

The NBA media release read: “Washington Wizard’s forward-center Nene has been suspended one game without pay for head-butting and grabbing guard-forward Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls around the neck with both hands and attempting to throw him down, it was announced today by Rod Thorn, President, Basketball Operations.

“The incident, in which Nene received two technical fouls and was ejected from the game, occurred with 8:28 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 100-97 loss to the visiting Chicago Bulls last night at Verizon Center. Nene will serve his suspension tomorrow (Sunday) when the Wizards host Chicago.”

It’s a potentially devastating blow for the Wizards, who seemed on the verge of taking the series with the two wins in Chicago and wrapped up in a tight game at home Friday. But Nene inexplicably grabbed Butler and even appeared ready to throw a punch. He was ejected, which greatly contributed to the Wizards losing Game 3 down the stretch even as they led with two minutes remaining.

Bulls players were mystified at Nene’s reaction as Joakim Noah walked by both as Nene was grabbing Butler and with a puzzled look. But Wizards players say it was Nene having boiled over in frustration with a lack of foul calls against Noah for his physical play against Nene. Nene had gotten the edge over Noah in Game 1 and 2. But Noah came back more aggressively in Game 3 and Nene was complaining to the officials relentlessly that Noah was constantly hitting his arm when trying to slap away the ball. When foul calls weren’t coming, Nene apparently snapped.

It was no tea for two tete a tete; it was Nene exiting and the series everyone decided was over was back on in a big way.

The one game between the teams this season the Bulls won was with Nene injured. But the Bulls Saturday weren’t thinking their way into the semifinals.

They still trail in the series and they did get Mike Dunleavy’s career game with 35 points and eight three pointers. And they still needed a Butler three with 24 seconds left to save them. And it’s not like the Bulls have figured out John Wall and Bradley Beal yet.

The Bulls met with media at the team hotel before Nene’s suspension was announced. So they didn’t react specifically. But they’d probably react the same way even if they knew: It’s about us.

“It’s what we have to do to win the next game,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “We’re not going to rehash all that stuff. You can’t get lost in all that other stuff. It’s like you would prepare for any game; you never know who may be injured or sick. We’re not speculating on what might be. Just get ourselves ready. We have to be ready for them.”

Added Taj Gibson: “They’ve still got a bunch of guys who are physical, guys who can score, guys who can rebound the ball; we worry about ourselves now. They’ve got a lot of guys who are going to step up; it’s playoff basketball. We’re just trying to focus on ourself.”

Without Nene, the Wizards probably will start Trevor Booker, their smallish power forward. They used former Bull Drew Gooden a bit after Nene was ejected.

Neither bring the physical presence or scoring of Nene, who was averaging 17 points on 53 percent shooting and helping limit Noah. Booker is a good outside shooter, but he’s much smaller and has trouble scoring inside. It’s possible the Wizards go with a smaller lineup and maybe use Al Harrington some as a stretch four, thus leaving more inside responsibility to Marcin Gortat. There was a chance Gortat could be suspended for leaving the bench when the altercation began. But the league apparently ruled a timeout had been called and players were getting up at the time and it was too difficult to distinguish if it was connected to the brouhaha.

The Bulls, however, have not come up with a defensive response to Wall and Beal, who are combining for just under 40 points per game with Beal at 21.3 per game and 47 percent on three pointers. Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster also are shooting more than 40 percent on threes in the series and the Wizards likely will try to push the ball more and challenge the Bulls to find someone else who can have a 30-point game. It’s not a habit in the Bulls offense.

It thus becomes a crucial game for the Wizards to win in obviously not desiring to return to Chicago after having given up their advantage. They’d then be faced as a young team with winning in Chicago again to have a chance to win a series many assumed was theirs. The lead columnist in the Washington Post for Friday postulated that for the first time since the 1970’s successful basketball was back in Washington. It could have disappeared for the Wizards in one, inexplicable angry moment Friday night.

The Wizards obviously are not done. They still could end up happy. But the Bulls deep hole at least appears to have some edges in which they can grab onto and climb out.

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