WASHINGTON — Even with the team’s “X-factor” suspended, the Washington Wizards had a No. 42 sitting next to the bench. The 57-year-old with graying hair couldn’t box out or grab a rebound, but owner Ted Leonsis waved his red towel and egged on a cheering crowd that chanted “Free Nene!”
The Wizards did just fine without the suspended Brazilian forward. They scored the first 14 points and beat the Chicago Bulls 98-89 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference series.
“I thought it was pretty hilarious that Ted had Nene’s jersey on,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “It kind of threw me off for a minute, but then I looked and seen it was Ted.”
Nene or not, the Wizards did what they’ve done all series: Take a quick lead and force the Bulls to use up energy trying to catch up. It was 15-8 in Game 3, 29-12 in Game 2, 19-13 in Game 1. Washington, seeking to win a playoff series for only the third time since the 1970s, can finish off the Bulls on the road in Game 5 on Tuesday night.
“We keep seeing this same kind of start for the last couple of games, and it’s frustrating,” said Taj Gibson, who came off the bench to lead the Bulls with a career-high 32 points. “It seems like at times we get overhyped with just thinking we’re going to be OK, we’re just that good. But in this league it’s not about how talented you are, it’s about how hard you work and how much effort you put when you start the game off, and I don’t think we did that.”
Nene was suspended for the game after grabbing Jimmy Butler’s head in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ Game 3 loss. Wall called Nene the “X-factor” this week, and for good reason: Since the March 2012 trade that brought Nene to D.C., Washington is 65-63 when he plays and 21-41 when he doesn’t.