First Round Matchup: No. 2 Springfield Armor vs. No. 7 Canton Charge
By the time the NBA D-League broke for the All-Star Game, the Springfield Armor had won more games in the 2011-12 season than the two teams that came before it had in two years. Combined.
In their first 100 games of existence, the Armor hadn’t faired so well. They’d won only 13 games in 2010-11, which would have come off as a disappointment, had it not nearly doubled their total from the year before. So when this year’s team – in its first year as the Nets’ lone affiliate and the team’s first under the tutelage of coach (and 2009 NBA D-League champ) Bob MacKinnon – finished off a perfect February with a 114-101 win over the Bakersfield Jam, their 21st win meant more than math.
It signaled a whole new era in the town that gave birth to basketball.
Now, the Armor are set to open up their first-ever trip to the NBA D-League Playoffs with a matchup against the Canton Charge, a team the Armor chose with the second pick in Sunday night’s postseason pairings draft. It wasn’t a shock that second-seeded Springfield picked seventh-seeded Canton (No. 1 seed L.A. went with No. 8 Iowa), but the matchup will pit the Eastern Conference champs against the team that was occupying in the No. 1 spot just two weeks ago.
Not to mention, of course, a team that didn't exist last year. After coming under a single-affiliation with the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason and installing coach Alex Jensen at the helm, the Charge reeled off 13 wins in 15 games starting in mid-February to vault into the postseason.
Springfield’s had three players called up to the NBA in 2011-12. That list includes forward Dennis Horner, who came into the NBA D-League via national tryouts and impressed everyone in the Nets organization so much that the big league club kept him on the roster to start the season, signifying the first time a player had ever gone from National Tryouts to the NBA. After coming down to the Armor at mid-season, Horner’s back up with the Nets now. But the other two are why Springfield looks like the league’s best option to take down L.A.
The first is Jerry Smith, a rookie out of Louisville who came to the Armor via the NBA D-League Draft this year. He came without much fanfare. He’s now on the short list for the league MVP trophy. Able to operate outside and inside, Smith’s done nothing but impress this year.
He’s joined by Jeff Foote, the 7-foot center out of Cornell who’s turned himself from a big body to a viable big man, and spent some time with the Hornets this year. Foote still needs some work, but he’s getting better by the week, and just finished off the regular season with back-to-back double-doubles.
But the best talent in Springfield might be one of the guys who didn’t get a Call-Up this year. Point guard JamesOn Curry’s coming off the best season of his NBA D-League career, and now has one more chance to show just how well he can operate an offense – and dispel any notion that he’s a 2-guard shoehorned into the point position.
For the Charge, though, the Call-Ups have been permanent. Manny Harris and Alan Anderson are both still up with their NBA teams, taking away the team’s two best scorers. They’ve struggled since Anderson went up to the Raptors on Mar. 26, losing four of their last five. However, the one win came against fellow playoff team Erie.
But the Charge have a chance. Luke Harangody’s still in town, on assignment from the Cavs. And for the past month, that’s been nearly enough.
Harangody’s become the premier post player in the league since early March, averaging 21 points and 13 rebound and anchoring a front court full of scrappers like Dante Milligan and Tyrell Biggs and sucking in the defense to open up 3-point marksman Antoine Agudio (55 percent from behind the arc) on the outside.
- Men of the Bench This season, the first in Canton history, is also Alex Jensen's first at the professional ranks. In this series, the former Saint Louis University assistant leads his team against Bob MacKinnon, whose three decades in basketball include an NBA D-League championship in 2009.
- Post-er Boys: The series features one of the best matchups of big men that the league's seen all year. On the Springfield side, look for Jeff Foote to continue the tenacity he learned in the NBA and brought back with him to Springfield. On the Canton side, Luke Harangody's still looking to show that he can operate on the inside against much taller defenders. This is a test on both ends.
- Curry in a Hurry: Curry couldn't have played much better in 2011-12. One of the premier point guards in a league bursting with them, he kept the Armor steady all year long, and could use one more strong effort to convince NBA teams that his best is still ahead of him.
|1. Jerry Smith, G||1. Antoine Agudio, G|
|2. JamesOn Curry, G||2. Tyrell Biggs, F|
|3. Jeff Foote, C||3. Frank Hassell, F|
|4. L.D. Williams, F||4. Dante Milligan, F|
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