Everything the Chicago Bulls are lauded for - their embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt, their ability to push pick and rolls to the sidelines and bait opponents into midrange shots - gets flipped upside down when facing the Wizards.
Really, it's the exact recipe teams should be using against the Wizards. You want to overwhelm Marcin Gortat and Nene with size (Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol), athleticism (Taj Gibson), and perimeter shooting (Nikola Mirotic), and hedge your bets on them missing those open midrange shots. We all know the story by now: The Wizards take a lot of midrange jumpers, and while they've managed to connect on 40 percent of them this year, you still want them taking it because it means less three-point tries.
But dating back to last season, Washington has scored at a rate of 107.5 points per 100 possessions in the nine games Nene has played in against the Bulls, which tops out as a top-ten mark this season. And that's just the offensive end. He's also held All-Star Pau Gasol to 9-22 shooting in the two games he's started against him this year, and made life miserable for MVP candidate Joakim Noah in the playoffs last year.
Chicago won't change up how they play him - they can't. He's a 43 percent shooter from midrange for the second season in a row, but no one is going to mistake him for a stretch-4. If you're hanging back in the lane to protect against any John Wall foray to the rim while giving up a clean look to Nene, you've done your job.
Washington knows that, and they've been much smarter about getting Nene to a spot on the floor where he can face-up and make a quick decision.
This is a set they went to frequently in the playoffs. Nene will come down to set a cross-screen for Beal, but the second Bradley springs free, he'll make a u-turn, come off a cross-screen from Paul Pierce, and catch the entry pass on the low-block. One jab-step later, and he sinks the 11-footer.
And that jab-step is critical. Watch the clip again. The middle of the floor is still cluttered, so there is no opening for Nene to drive the ball. But he's one of the few big men that can actually put the ball on the deck in traffic and make a play.
That's where Washington uses Chicago's game-plan against them. They get them in more side pick-and-roll situations, knowing the big man defender will hang back and shade the ball handler toward the baseline, coercing that second help-defender in their overload scheme to slide off Nene to protect against the roll.
This is a convoluted way of saying they're making the floor unbalanced for Chicago. Now, both of their big men are on the same side of the floor, with no semblance of rim protection on the weak side. So what does Nene do? Pop out to the elbow while Gortat continues his roll.
Nene spots this right away and makes a quick move to the basket. Noah, who is already hobbled by a knee injury coming into the game, is not sliding step for step here and contesting the shot. Here's the clip:
This was the quintessential Nene game. He dominated every facet and had all of 13 points to show for it. What he did, per usual, went beyond your traditional boxscore. He facilitated the offense and played a big role in Beal's huge night. Watch him nail Bradley's man on a pair of dribble hand-offs at the elbows:
There's a reason why there's such a giant discrepancy in the team's offensive and defensive rating when Nene is on the floor compared to when he's off. As much as the Wizards have retooled around John Wall over the years, one fact still remains: they need the Big Brazilian moving forward. The Chicago Bulls know this better than anyone around the league, and should pray they don't see him and the Wizards come April.