Winning is about more than pride. It can be about getting seen by the right people, namely NBA scouts, which is utterly important for players in a developmental league.
When the Mad Ants were a dreadful 1-8, coach Steve Gansey said, there wasn't much interest in seeing what his team could do.
Now that they're 17-16, with victories in eight of their last 10 games, things have changed.
“No one's going to be watching our games (when we're 1-8) and no one's going to be coming to our games, like scouts or NBA personnel, so (it's about) playing the right way,” Gansey said. “We're winning now and a lot of people are talking about us, and that's what you want – some exposure.”
The Mad Ants have recovered from the worst start in franchise history to get within 11/2 games of Delaware for the sixth and final playoff spot in the G League's Eastern Conference with 17 games remaining in the regular season.
Fort Wayne, which is coming off Sunday's impressive 136-102 victory over Delaware, has a chance to make a statement at 7 p.m. today against Atlantic Division-leading Maine (22-9).
The Red Claws are expected to have 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall, who is averaging 13.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.8 shot blocks in 20 games.
Former Purdue star Carsen Edwards and former Indiana University star Romeo Langford, the 2018 Indiana Mr. Basketball out of New Albany High School, weren't with the Red Claws for their game Monday night against the Windy City Bulls, so it's not expected they'll be down from the Boston Celtics for Maine's game at Memorial Coliseum tonight.
The Mad Ants expect to have Alize Johnson from the Indiana Pacers. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds Sunday. Goga Bitadze, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds, was recalled by the Pacers on Monday but could return today.
The Mad Ants, who have won 14 of their last 20 games, believe they are a legitimate championship contender.
“We've just got to stay the course. We can't get complacent with where we're at,” forward Ben Moore said.
A key lately for the Mad Ants has been their ball movement; they've averaged 26.2 assists and 15 turnovers over their last five games.
“You have to attack it, pass it or shoot it. You can't catch it, look, dribble it between your legs three or four times,” Gansey said. “You've got to make quick decisions and make the defense move. If someone's open 100 times in a row, you need to pass it (to him) 100 times in a row. I've said that too many times. Guys are just finding each other and we're playing really good basketball on the offensive end, sharing the ball.”
Also important has been the way the Mad Ants have reshaped their roster, bringing in Moore, Daxter Miles Jr. and Tre Kelley during the season, and parting ways with Ike Nwamu, Hasheem Thabeet, Jovan Mooring and Demetrius Denzel-Dyson.
“It's a long season,” Gansey said. “I've said it before, the first 15 games you have a certain team, then the next 15 games you have a different team. And your last 20 games, you've got to see who's available and who you have. Guys are getting called up. Guys are leaving. Guys are going overseas. A lot of things happen, and you have to put together a full year of good basketball.”