Nene Averts Season-Ending Injury

3:47pm: Nene has been diagnosed merely with a sprained MCL, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. He’ll be out four to six weeks, but it’s not the season-ender that had been feared, Wojnarowski adds.

10:06am: The Wizards are worried that Nene is done for the season with a left knee injury sustained in Sunday’s game, reports Michael Lee of The Washington Post. The big man will have an MRI and meet with team doctors today, and the extent of the damage to his knee won’t be known until after that. Still, a source tells Lee that, “It doesn’t look good.”

Nene left the game and didn’t return after the injury occurred during the third quarter, and the initial diagnosis is a knee sprain. The timing is particularly unfortunate for the Wizards, since the trade deadline just happened on Thursday. The January 15th deadline to apply for a disabled player exception has long since passed, and even so, the Wizards are hamstrung with a team salary that’s within $2MM of the tax line. Washington also faces a hard cap, so the Wizards couldn’t go more than $4MM into the tax even if they wanted to.

The 31-year-old struggled with plantar fasciitis for much of his first season and a half with the Wizards, but he’s played in 33 straight games, his longest such streak since a March 2012 trade that brought him from Denver. He’s averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game this season, with a 16.4 PER. The Wizards outscore opponents by 2.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and give up 3.9 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the bench, according to Washington, at 28-28, is fifth in the Eastern Conference, a game and a half back of fourth place but just a game and a half ahead of eighth place in a tightly bunched playoff race.

The Wizards have an open roster spot, so they could pursue someone on the buyout market, as long as that player comes cheaply. They can’t sign any free agents for more than the minimum salary, and while they could use one of their trade exceptions to snag a player off waivers, that’s an unlikely proposition. Former Wizard Antawn Jamison is among a group of forwards that have either already hit free agency or have been linked to possible buyouts that includes Metta World Peace, Earl Clark and Charlie Villanueva.

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