The Mad Ants chose to play the eighth-seeded Reno Bighorns in the NBA D-League playoffs. As the league’s regular-season champion, Fort Wayne got to choose its first-round opponent from the team seeded fourth through eighth.
The best-of-three series begins in Reno, Nev., at 5 p.m. Friday. Game 2 will be at Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m. Sunday. Game 3, if necessary, will be April 15 at the Coliseum.
We talked it over the last day and a half and decided by looking at the rosters and travel, and we felt that would be the best choice for us, said coach Conner Henry, whose Mad Ants (34-16) won 17 of their last 20 games and clinched the top seed with a 129-128 double-overtime victory over second-seeded Los Angeles in the regular-season finale Friday.
We have some days to prepare for the next game. This gives us time to rest up, and we feel confident with that selection (of Reno).
Led by Trey McKinney-Jones’ 28 points and 10 rebounds, the Mad Ants defeated Reno 114-89 in their only meeting, Dec. 26 at the Coliseum. Sadiel Rojas had 21 points and seven rebounds in that game.
This season, the Mad Ants have been led by all-star Ron Howard’s 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, and by Tony Mitchell’s 20.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
The Bighorns’ roster features former Mad Ants star Walker Russell, who has averaged 7.5 points and 4.4 assists in 14 games this season. They have an NBA-contracted player, Willie Reed, who has averaged 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in five games since the Sacramento Kings moved him from Springfield to Reno.
K.C. Rivers is their leading scorer with an average of 15.7 points in 45 games.
Fort Wayne has the fifth-ranked offense with 108.6 points per game. Reno is 15th with 104.8.
Of the possible first-round opponents – Canton, Sioux Falls, Rio Grande Valley and Santa Cruz – the Mad Ants had only one game apiece this season against the Bighorns, Rio Grande Valley and Santa Cruz.
(Familiarity) is one of the things you talk about, Henry said. You play virtually everybody else multiple times and you get to know each other.
I felt going to Reno and playing an opponent we’ve only met once would be a good thing. No matter how you slice it, it’s six or seven hours of travel for any opponent except Canton. We felt the eighth seed was the best choice for us to play.
In their seven seasons, the Mad Ants have been to the playoffs only once before, getting swept by Santa Cruz last year, in a series that started at the Coliseum.
The Mad Ants embraced getting to select their opponent for the first time.
I don’t think it’s nerve-wracking. It’s nice to be able to choose your opponent, Henry said.
But we look at it that we have to play everybody (if we want to win a championship). We’ll have to go through everybody. To have the No. 1 selection, that’s been our goal for the last 15 games and we accomplished it.
Now we move forward.