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Ants eye playoffs; strong finish is key

Steve Warden
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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette

Ron Howard and the Mad Ants have the 10th best record in the NBA D-League. Only the top eight teams make the playoffs.

Mad Ants
vs. Canton

When: 7 p.m. today

TV: MyTV

Webcast:

www.fortwaynehoops.com

FORT WAYNE – The unofficial countdown to the NBA D-League playoffs hasn’t begun yet with the Mad Ants because a fourth of the season still remains. But with 13 games left, including today’s 7 p.m. meeting with Canton at Memorial Coliseum, the team is aware of the challenge before it.

The best eight records in the D-League advance to the playoffs, and heading into tonight’s game, the Ants (18-19) are No. 10. The two teams they are directly behind – Maine and Erie – are locked in a duel of their own for the No. 8 slot. The task before them is simple to grasp: If the Mad Ants are to reach the D-League playoffs for the first time in their six-year history, their best chance is to climb over both East Division rivals.

And because it’s the beginning of the fourth quarter, time is of the essence.

“Maybe a little bit,” coach Duane Ticknor said of watching the standings. “Coaches probably start scoreboard watching a little more now than you do earlier in the year, but I don’t think our approach to any of the games is any different. Our game preparation doesn’t change a whole lot.”

The Ants of March are paying for the sins of December, when, over a three-week period, the team went 1-8. Since then the team has played at a .607 clip (17-11), which would give it the fifth-best record in the league.

“We already put ourselves in a deep hole from the beginning – before we made the roster changes,” veteran guard Ron Howard said.

“We’ve been playing catch-up ever since. To go along with how well we’ve been playing in January, we still have ground to make up. Everyone knows that if we take care of business and win the games we’re supposed to win, we can put ourselves in a good position.”

The Ants have a March 14 game at Maine and a March 21 home game with the Red Claws remaining.

As for Erie, the series is over, with the Ants winning four of seven.

But as any coach worth his salt and salary says, Ticknor is taking one at a time.

“We can’t worry about them,” he said. “We can’t worry about anybody but ourselves. If we take care of business and do what we’ve got to do, we’ve got a chance.”

stwarden@jg.net

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