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The Wizards' latest trade breaks up positive pairing

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The Wizards' latest trade breaks up positive pairing

Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith shared several similarities beyond being very tall men. At 32, they were the oldest players on the Wizards roster. Both arrived in Washington during the 2016 free agency period. They each fell out of the Wizards’ playing rotation this season with Thomas Bryant emerging as the starting center.

There’s another.

Despite receiving limited minutes in recent weeks, each remained remarkably upbeat to the point they could hold seminars on the topic of positive thinking.

“That’s the business. We’re in a tough business,” Mahinmi told NBC Sports Washington. “Me being in this league for 12 years, I understand it’s a long season. It’s a process. At the end of the day, you being mad isn’t going to much for yourself or the team. Have to be professional. You got to be positive.”

The Wizards (11-15) close their four-game road swing Monday against the Pacers (16-10). No doubt Mahinmi keeps that attitude Monday night against his former team even if the 6-foot-11 center doesn’t enter the game.

Smith would as well if he still played for the Wizards. Washington traded the 7-footer Friday in a three-team deal with the Bucks and Cavaliers. 

"When you see good basketball out there, it's easy to be upbeat. It's easy to be upbeat for your teammates out there,” Smith said to NBC Sports Washington Friday. Hours later Smith found out positively he was headed to Milwaukee.

Mahinmi remains as does what’s left of that four-year, $64 million contract that expires after the 2019-20 season. The signing was arguably curious from the start because of the contract terms and presence of now ex-Wizard Marcin Gortat. Positivity, perhaps Mahinmi's greatest contribution, doesn't show in the box score and the center's limited production is a constant source of annoyance for fans. 

The 10-year veteran also feels frustration. Mahinmi wants to play, contribute to the cause. For now, and likely going forward, Wizards coach Scott Brooks looks elsewhere except for spot minutes. Mahinmi didn’t play in eight of Washington’s last 11 games. While helpful as a rebounder and defender, he struggles offensively and averages six personal fouls per 36 minutes. 

Through it all, the smile and warmth remain for the husband and father of three. Fatherhood is yet another connection with Smith (and most of the Wizards roster at this point). Listening to them talk about the 21-year-old Bryant made it sound like a co-parenting situation.

“His absolute genuine joy is fun to see,” Smith said like a proud father. 

Despite Saturday’s 116-101 road loss to the Cavaliers, the Wizards are 6-4 since the energetic Bryant entered the starting lineup Nov. 20 against the Clippers. Washington’s season doesn’t hinge on Bryant’s development, but him turning into a steady option is essential. 

That’s an area Mahinmi seeks to offer help just like an NBA legend did for him upon entering the league with the Spurs in 2007.

“I’ll always remember when I was a young player trying to establish myself in this league and thrown into the mix. Obviously, it was very different. I was behind Tim Duncan. It meant everything to have the support of my elders, the vets and everyone around me. I’m trying to do this for (Thomas and the) young guys.”

While not playing consistently isn't ideal, Mahinmi said family life lifts his spirits, and maturity offers a new perspective.

“I can guarantee you if I was younger I wouldn’t be dealing with the challenges with the same approach,” Mahinmi said. “It’s good because basketball isn’t everything for me. I have bigger things, more important things going on in my life.”

Smith’s life changed Friday. He joined his new teammates Sunday and met with the Milwaukee media. He quickly impressed reporters with his attitude. 

Part of Smith knows he needs to impress NBA general managers and scouts with his play. 

His three-year contract, which included a player option of $5.45 million for the current season, expires this summer. Playing in only 12 of Washington’s 25 games before the trade didn’t help the cause of landing another deal.

“I mean, a little bit,” Smith said of free agency weighing on his mind, “but things will work out in the end. I’m 12 years in. This is all icing on the cake for me.”

Regarding his on-court role, it’s been a slippery road for Mahinmi since leaving Indiana in 2016. He’d love to play Monday in one of the NBA cities he considers home. The reality is others offer traits better suited to deal with the Pacers’ interior trio of Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Thad Young.

Maybe Mahinmi, now the final remaining member of the questionable group of 2016 additions, sneaks in for some action. Regardless, the nice man from France will keep up the encouragement.

“You have to be genuinely happy for your teammates,” Mahinmi said. “You’ve got to be willing to go through those times as a player, find the benefits of all challenges. It’s definitely a challenge for myself, for Jason, but I’m here for the team.”

That’s where the similarities with Smith end.

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Rui Hachimura has a great matchup against Boston Wednesday

Rui Hachimura has a great matchup against Boston Wednesday

The Wizards travel to Boston Wednesday to take on a surging Celtics team that currently boasts the best record in the Eastern Conference at 8-1.

While these two have had notable clashes in the past, these rosters have been almost entirely overhauled. 

The Morris brothers have moved on from both clubs. Isaiah Thomas went from Boston to Cleveland, to Los Angeles, to Denver, and now to Washington. Kelly Oubre is thriving in Phoenix, and Kelly Olynyk is now in South Beach. Avery Bradley is on the Lakers. Jae Crowder is on the Grizzlies. Marcin Gortat is out of the league, and Al Horford is in the City of Brotherly Love.

There are, however, similar faces on both rosters with Bradley Beal (26.1 PPG) thriving in the nation's capital and Marcus Smart, scrappy as can be, still as the energizer for Brad Stevens.

Some of the new faces on both rosters have been instrumental in reshaping the future of both teams.

Kemba Walker (25 PPG) departed Charlotte to join the Celtics this past offseason and has been a welcome addition to the city as well as the team.

In Washington, it's fair to say the Wizards have added the most talked-about NBA rookie on the planet, in Japanese forward Rui Hachimura (13.6 PPG). 

While Pelicans' star Zion Williamson is the biggest name to join the NBA since LeBron James, has yet to make his regular season debut. 

Hachimura, on the other hand, has exceeded all expectations in D.C. and is now looked upon as one of the building blocks of this Wizards' core to help the squad rejoin the Eastern Conference's elite after missing the postseason last year.

Hachimura's first career game in Boston will be a memorable one. 

While these rosters have changed immensely, there is still a semblance of a rivalry between these two franchises, and a standout performance from Hachimura and more importantly, a win, could help spark what was once considered a heated rivalry.

Boston's roster does not feature any top tier, big men. Enes Kanter was brought in during the offseason for offensive rebounding and a scoring punch. Robert Williams is still raw and drops jaws night-in and night-out but is mainly used as a rim protector and for lobs. Daniel Theis will most likely get the start for Boston at center but the German big-man is relatively undersized at 6'8'. 

Hachimura will have the opportunity Wednesday night to be the difference-maker with his unique blend of size, skill, and ability to play multiple positions. 

Boston can score with any team in the NBA. With Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown in the fold, the team's perimeter defense is as good if not better than anyone's. But in the frontcourt, they struggle. Jayson Tatum (19.4 PPG) is an exceptional scorer but is still developing on the defensive end. 

Swingmen that can play multiple positions have been the Celtics' Achilles heel this season.

Let's take a look at the leading scorers for each of their opponents through the first 9 games of the season.

10/23 at Philadelphia: Ben Simmons (6'10') 24 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds.

10/25 vs. Toronto: Pascal Siakam (6'9') 33 points, 8 rebounds.

10/26 at New York: R.J. Barrett (6'6') 26 points, 7 rebounds.

10/30 vs. Milwaukee: Khris Middleton (6'7') 26 points, 6 rebounds.

11/1 vs. New York: Marcus Morris (6'8') 29 points, 7 rebounds.

11/5 at Cleveland: Collin Sexton (6'1') 21 points.

11/7 at Charlotte: Miles Bridges (6'6') 18 points, 10 rebounds.

11/9 at San Antonio: DeMar DeRozan (6'6') 22 points.

11/11 vs. Dallas: Luka Doncic (6'7') 34 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists.

With one outlier (Sexton), you can notice the trend. The Celtics struggle to defend swingmen that can switch between the 3 and the 4.

Rui Hachimura (6'8') should thrive against Boston on Wednesday night and prove to be yet another task for the Celtics' frontcourt defense.

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Isaiah Thomas isn't ready to give up his reputation as a fourth quarter star

Isaiah Thomas isn't ready to give up his reputation as a fourth quarter star

During two dominant years with the Boston Celtics that saw Isaiah Thomas earn two All-Star nods as well as All-NBA honors during the 2016-17 season, the point guard became well-known for his play in the fourth quarter.

Throughout that stretch, Thomas always seemed to shine when the lights were the brightest. He could play well for three quarters, but then it seemed as if he'd find an extra gear. If a bucket was needed late, he was the guy. So much so that those final minutes became known as "IT time".

A few bumpy years removed from those iconic nights, Thomas is now with the Wizards working to make it back to that elite level of play. As for the Celtics, they now have a different point guard coming up clutch late in Kemba Walker. Walker, who signed with Boston in the offseason, is averaging 25 points per game for his 8-1 squad and has been a force down the stretch. His recent play has some in Boston wondering if he now wears the crown when it comes to fourth-quarter heroics. 

Thomas says hold on a minute.

There's no denying that Walker is at the top of his game right now, but Thomas' confidence isn't going anywhere. It's that attitude, always wanting to be the best, that has allowed him to work back to being a starter. Thomas will get a chance to make his point come Wednesday, as he makes his return to the arena he once thrived in when the Wizards visit the Celtics.

If the game is close late, there could be some good action between two guys who know a thing or two about getting a big basket.

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