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Wizards feel confident heading into Game 7 against Celtics, have packed for Cleveland

Wizards feel confident heading into Game 7 against Celtics, have packed for Cleveland

Given the quick turnaround, less than 48 hours, between the end of the Wizards-Celtics second round series and the beginning of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday, Washington players packed their suitcases for much longer than just a one-game trip to Boston. They packed for Cleveland where, if they beat the Celtics, they will be through Game 2 on Friday.

That simple fact should surprise no one given the timeframe, but the Wizards were confident in confirming those plans.

"Oh, for sure," forward Otto Porter said. 

"We're going to pack for the entire week," center Ian Mahinmi said after Saturday's practice. "That's a lot of suits, but luckily I have a lot of suits."

[RELATED: Wall's hard work pays off with career moment]

Few members of the Wizards have experience in Game 7s. Mahinmi does, along with Marcin Gortat, Brandon Jennings and head coach Scott Brooks. Mahinmi's advice to teammates has been to embrace the moment and the pressure can be overcome.

“Game 7s are fun," Mahinmi said. "They’re easier to prepare because it’s kind of you have to go out there and give it everything you have. It’s plain and simple. There is no, ‘I’m going to save this for the fourth quarter’, because if you lose, you go home. Mentally, you just relax and go out there and do what you’ve been doing all year. It’s kind of a privilege to get to that point where one game is going to decide your whole season basically. I’m going to tell those guys, ‘it’s nothing to overthink, just go out there and play hard.’ We’ve been playing hard. More of the same.”

Brooks is undefeated as a coach in two Game 7s. He knows the Wizards will have to be better than they were in Game 5 in Boston, when they were blown out. The Wizards haven't won in Boston since 2014.

"We're going to play much better than we played in Game 5. I can tell by our focus [at Saturday's practice]. At least I hope," he said.

Porter has never played in a Game 7, but he showed no nerves looking ahead to the matchup. He thinks the Wizards are in a good position.

"We can go there and just play our game and I think that’s what we’re going to do," he said. "All the pressure is on them."

The Wizards showed resolve in closing out Boston in Game 6 after the Celtics arrived in all-black, hoping to put on a funeral for Washington's 2016-17 season. Now they must win one more game to keep the good times rolling.

[RELATED: Bryce Harper said he wants to be like John Wall]

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Washington Wizards hire assistant coach Michael Longabardi to Scott Brooks coaching staff

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Washington Wizards hire assistant coach Michael Longabardi to Scott Brooks coaching staff

The Wizards sought to add an assistant coach with a strong defensive track record this offseason and they did just that Saturday evening by hiring Michael Longabardi, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes. 

Longardi, 46, has spent the last three seasons as a defensive coach on the Cleveland Cavaliers' staff. He was initially hired by former Cavs' head coach Tyronn Lue in 2016 when the team claimed their first championship in franchise history. 

Before joining the Cavaliers, Longabardi held assistant coaching roles with the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, and most notably the Boston Celtics, in which he and Lue served under head coach Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau from 2007 to 2013.

Longabardi was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Xaverian High School, a private Catholic school. He then went on to play basketball at Newberry College where he earned the nickname "Mr. Defense."

Just a day after reports broke that Tommy Sheppard would be promoted to a permanent general manager position, the organization is making yet another move in hopes of improving overall culture and team defense.

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Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

The process took nearly four months, yet the Wizards ultimately didn't look far for their new general manager, as the team is removing the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard. The longtime NBA executive will now finally get a chance to run his own operation.

Sheppard may not have been the first choice among fans initially when it was announced he would fill in for Ernie Grunfeld, who was dismissed from his post as team president on April 2, but over the past few months he has acclimated himself well, showing in many ways he is prepared to lead a team as the top person in charge. He cleaned up the Wizards' salary cap situation as best he could, giving them some newfound financial flexibility beyond next season.

Sheppard did that while flooding the roster with young, cheap and high-upside players. And he did so by making some tough decisions, ones that helped demonstrate he can provide an organizational reset despite his role in the previous regime. 

Sheppard allowed Tomas Satoransky to walk in free agency despite being central in bringing him to the Wizards, first by scouting him overseas and then by convincing him to join the NBA ranks. He let Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker leave even though he was part of the braintrust that traded for them. And he traded Dwight Howard, again despite playing a role in bringing him to Washington.

Sheppard has operated with impartiality when the team needed him to. What he has done this offseason looks a lot like it probably would have if the Wizards had hired someone from the outside.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a "trial run," according to a person familiar with the process.

Sheppard worked closely with the team's ownership group, giving them written proposals for his plans that addressed goals, budget and contingencies. It was a collaborative effort to make the Wizards' roster younger, cheaper and harder working. They also set out to add more international players and accomplished that by drafting Rui Hachimura and by trading for Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga.

Sheppard impressed Leonsis especially during the effort to re-sign Thomas Bryant. Bryant has become a favorite of Leonsis' for his consistent effort, character and enthusiasm. Sheppard and the Wizards were able to agree with Bryant on a new contract the night free agency began. It was quick and painless.

Sheppard himself will be signing a new contract, NBC Sports Washington was told. And there will be major changes to the organizational structure announced this coming week. In the basketball operations side, the team will heavily expand their investment in analytics, by "triple" according to a person familiar with their plans. They will also beef up their scouting department with an eye on Africa and Latin America.

Sheppard has done a nice job for the Wizards but the real work in many ways about to begin. Dismantling an NBA roster is not as difficult as building a contender. Now he has to find pieces to build around John Wall and Bradley Beal that can help the team win something of substance. 

Sheppard will have to do that within the constraints of Wall's supermax contract. And he will have to sort out Beal's future, which could take a turn later this month. 

On July 26, the Wizards can officially offer Beal a contract extension worth approximately $111 million over three years. But there is a long list of clues that suggest he will not take the offer.

How Sheppard, Beal and the Wizards handle the fallout in the event he turns them down would be a test in itself. Maybe they spin it simply as Beal betting on himself. If he makes All-NBA next season, he could make well over $200 million with a five-year supermax.

For Sheppard, the hard work is about to start. He is set to guide the Wizards into a new era, one he and the team hope can reach a higher peak than the last.

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