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Mad Ants NBADL

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D-League playoff capsule: Mad Ants vs. Santa Cruz

– How the Mad Ants and Santa Cruz match up in the best-of-three series:

Statistics

Records: Fort Wayne 27-23; Santa Cruz 32-18

Offensive average: Fort Wayne 104.1; Santa Cruz 98.8

Defensive average: Fort Wayne 101.5, Santa Cruz 96.8

Rebounds per game: Fort Wayne 48.5; Santa Cruz 48.2

Field goal percentage: Fort Wayne .434, Santa Cruz .442

Defensive field goal percentage: Fort Wayne .440; Santa Cruz .408

Leading scorer: Fort Wayne, Tony Mitchell (21.1); Santa Cruz, Travis Leslie (15.4)

Leading rebounder: Fort Wayne, Mitchell, Brandon Wallace (6.4); Santa Cruz, Jeremy Tyler (8.8)

Leading assists: Fort Wayne, Ron Howard (4.7); Santa Cruz, Stefhon Hannah (5.1)

Starting frontcourt

Fort Wayne: From sideline to sideline, Brandon Wallace, Anthony Richardson and Tommy Smith could be the longest threesome in the playoffs, which plays a factor in defense and rebounding. They combine to average nearly 29 points per game.

Santa Cruz: Hilton Armstrong is a 6-foot-11 center with 277 games of NBA experience. He averages 13.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks and shoots 63 percent from the floor. Both he and Taylor Griffin get to the free-throw line. Griffin, brother of Clippers star Blake, averages 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.

Advantage: Mad Ants

Starting backcourt

Fort Wayne: Tony Mitchell has been on an absolute tear. Since a 47-point game in a win over Austin, the 6-foot-6 rookie from Alabama has averaged 34.4 points over his last seven games, including 49 at Sioux Falls.

Santa Cruz: Travis Leslie, Stefhon Hannah and former Mad Ant Cam Jones all have the ability to beat a defender off the bounce. All three can score 25 points or more on a given night.

Advantage: Santa Cruz

Bench

Fort Wayne: Not much scoring but plenty of savvy veterans. Guard Ron Howard returns from an injury and will help the bench depth. Sadiel Rojas brings energy and helps off the boards. Forwards Chris Porter and Terrance Thomas are rebounders and defenders, and guard Demetri McCamey has three-point capabilities.

Santa Cruz: Former Mad Ants swingman Darrington Hobson had a triple-double the last game against Bakersfield. Jeremy Tyler and Mickell Gladness give the Warriors front-court depth. Tyler averages 17.4 points, and Gladness is among the league’s top shot-blockers. Guard Scott Machado is expected to return from the NBA.

Advantage: Santa Cruz

Coaching

Fort Wayne: Duane Ticknor has missed the playoffs just once in his minor league coaching career. Despite losing high-profile players off this year’s team (JaJuan Johnson, Luke Harangody, Walker Russell Jr.), he molded the Ants into the best team in franchise history in his first season in Fort Wayne.

Santa Cruz: This is Nate Bjorkgren’s second season as a head coach. Last season he led the Dakota Wizards to a 29-21 record and the East Division title. The Warriors’ 32-18 record is third-best in the D-League. Before becoming a head coach, he was an assistant at Iowa for four seasons.

Advantage: Mad Ants

Intangibles

Fort Wayne: The Ants are arguably the hottest team in the D-League, having won 11 of their last 15 games to secure a playoff berth. In Mitchell, they also have the hottest player. Fort Wayne owns two victories over Santa Cruz this season.

Santa Cruz: Not only do the Warriors have the third-best schedule in the D-League, but they play in the competitive West Division with Bakersfield, which had the best record. Santa Cruz has eight players on its roster with NBA experience.

Advantage: Mad Ants

Prediction: Mad Ants in three

stwarden@jg.net

Steve Warden, The Journal Gazette

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