“I’ve played this position at a very high level and I know when I see a good one,” Brooks said at a video conference Thursday night. “… Neto, he can play the two, he can play the three, especially in today’s game when you have so many smaller twos and threes. He plays with the tenacity that he is. “
The security guard Bradley Beal calls “Wolfman” – Neto’s first name is pronounced “Hah-ool”; think howling at the moon – is the latest role-playing player who helped the wizards achieve another victory.
Washington (12-18) finished a season run of the Denver Nuggets (17-15) with a 112-110 win on Thursday thanks to strong nights from three starters and with Neto and backup center Robin Lopez filling in the gaps.
Beal led the team with 33 points. Russell Westbrook had 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his ninth triple double of the season and Rui Hachimura added 20 points. Lopez held Nikola Jokic (24 points, 11 rebounds) in check for the second time this season.
The Wizards went 3-1 on their first West Coast road trip of the year and have now won six of their last seven games.
Neto stood out on Thursday for his shrewd moves and sheer drive against Jamal Murray (34 points) and the rest of the Nuggets. Neto is playing more minutes than usual as his surrogate colleague Ish Smith is out with a right quadriceps load. He has 15 points, five steals and four assists.
The security guard has been a favorite in Washington since training camp. After that, Brooks and his teammates agreed that Neto was the standout player, but he was most often rated as a good, energetic shooter.
On Thursday he proved his versatility.
“He was big tonight – defensive games, made big shots, he was the X factor tonight,” Westbrook said. “He did a good job staying in control of the game while he was there. Did a hell of a job tonight. “
The first sign that it might have been Neto’s night came in the first quarter when the point guard dumped a lazy Denver pass a little too forcefully into the open halfway, sprinted down to save it, and then himself brought Troy Brown Jr. back to his knees before he got the ball for a layup.
If Washington’s role-players have been at their best this season, they’ve usually played games like this – moves that not only earn team points, but also energize them at just the right moment. Brown’s bucket brought the Wizards to 26-22 at the end of a rare strong first quarter, which made the difference in cementing Washington’s control early on.
In a crucial last-minute sequence, Neto picked up Murray halfway and tried to stay with him until he missed a three-point shot.
“Just his tough mentality that he has, I think that’s the Brazilian side of him,” said Beal. “He’s just a gritty guy. We love everything he brings to the table and he has taken up the challenge of protecting Murray tonight. Murray did some tough, though [Neto] made him work for everything. “
With the wizards, the point guard achieves career highs in minutes (19.2) and points (8.2) on average and shoots a total of 45.9 percent, 37.3 percent of which from the three-point range. He knows the team depends on him being aggressive and firing shots when he’s open on the offensive, but his expanded role on the team feels more liberating than under pressure.
“It’s easier when you have coaches and teammates who allow you to be yourself,” said Neto. “I’m not saying I couldn’t be on other teams, but Coach Scott gave me a lot of confidence and my teammates gave me a lot of confidence just to do what I do. Record when I feel like I need to record, defensive team leader, and speak to everyone.
“I think I’m in a good place. I’ve found a team that will allow me to do that and I’m comfortable with it and I think it will show on the pitch. You know, I’ve worked hard every summer waiting for my opportunity and I think this year came and I was ready. “
This is the mentality Brooks often says that he respected the most because he was in Neto’s position himself.
The coach was asked again on Thursday to explain the hot phase of the team after such a difficult start to the season and repeated the team’s most frequent explanation lately. Everyone with the wizards has their own specific role.
“We play hard, the starters lead us and play well, and little by little some of our inexperienced players are getting better,” said Brooks. “And it seems like RoLo and Neto, the two veterans, savvy veterans, play huge minutes when asked to and play well.”