FORT WAYNE – If you lean out April’s door long enough, and listen hard enough, maybe you can hear all the way back to the first week of January. That sound in the distance is the Mad Ants’ two victories over Santa Cruz being tossed into the street.
It means absolutely nothing, Ants coach Duane Ticknor said of the Jan. 3 and 5 home wins over Santa Cruz, whom the Ants will play at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the NBA D-League playoffs at Memorial Coliseum. That stuff all goes out the door. It means nothing.
Except those are the two wins that got the Mad Ants into believing; the back-to-back victories that became the foundation of an eight-game winning streak that served as rocket fuel to elevate Fort Wayne out of a 3-10 early-season chasm and into the D-League playoffs for the first time in the team’s six-year history.
The D-League has a unique playoff format, with the three division winners choosing their first-round opponents Sunday. Top-seeded and West Division champion Bakersfield, No. 2 seed and Central Division champ Rio Grande Valley and East Division and No. 3 seed Canton chose other opponents for the best-of-three series, which left the fifth-seeded Ants (27-23) remaining for No. 4 Santa Cruz (32-18).
The Ants will play at Santa Cruz at 10 p.m. Saturday, and if a third game is necessary, it will be at 9 p.m. Sunday.
I thought it was a real tribute to our players and what they’ve done over the last six weeks or so, Ticknor said of the top teams avoiding the Ants, who won 11 of their last 15 games. People know that we’re going to give it everything, and we’ll be a tough out.
Santa Cruz enters the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, and the Warriors – formerly the Dakota Wizards – have lost five of their last six.
When Santa Cruz faced the Ants on Jan. 3, it came in with a five-game winning streak. But the Ants won 102-86. Two nights later, Fort Wayne had seven players score in double figures to win again, 118-90.
Two of those in double figures that night – Miles Plumlee (10 points) and Darryl Partin (18) are not on the Ants roster. Of the 10 who played for Santa Cruz, eight return, including former Mad Ants guards Cam Jones and Darrington Hobson.
In the Warriors’ final regular-season game – a 106-105 loss to Bakersfield on Saturday – the 6-foot-7 Hobson had a triple-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
The Ants were without 6-7 forward Anthony Richardson for their final two games. According to Ticknor, Richardson, who averages 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds, suffered from food poisoning. He is expected to play Wednesday.
Guard Ron Howard, who averaged 18.5 points in the two wins over Santa Cruz, has missed the last seven games with a fractured right wrist. His playoff availability will be re-evaluated after today’s practice.