NBA D-League Playoff Preview: Fort Wayne Mad Ants vs. Sioux Falls Skyforce
While the Vipers and Warriors shoot it out in the other semifinal, the Fort Wayne-Sioux Falls series is shaping up to be a classic defensive slugfest. What these teams lack in star power and name recognition, they make up for in unselfishness, grit and an attack mentality. The Mad Ants are riding the high of 15 wins in 17 games and their first playoff series win in team history, while the Skyforce -- in existence since 1989 across three different leagues -- are looking to follow the footsteps of their new single affiliate, the Miami Heat.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Sioux Falls finished first in defensive rating at 100.1 while Fort Wayne finished third at 102.4. It was no surprise that while other playoff teams were surpassing 100 points in the third quarter, the Skyforce and Mad Ants held their opponent under the century mark in all five of their respective first-round games.
The teams are loaded with athletic perimeter defenders who put constant pressure on ball handlers, from Trey McKinney Jones and Sadiel Rojas to DeAndre Liggins and Larry Drew. Winning the turnover battle was an X-factor for both in the first round, as Fort Wayne forced Reno into 51 in two games while Sioux Falls forced 72 in three.
A middle-of-the-pack offensive team for much of the season -- averaging 105.6 points per game entering March -- the Mad Ants turned up the tempo during the stretch run and became a scoring machine. Old school guard Ron Howard, the NBA D-League's all-time leading scorer, has led the way all along, but two-time dunk contest champ Tony Mitchell's maturation after his Call-Up to the Bucks provided the spark.
The Mad Ants lead the season series 3-2 after taking three straight from Sioux Falls in February. They held the Skyforce to 86.7 points per game on 38.3% shooting during those three wins, shutting down their two main perimeter threats, Liggins and Tre Kelley (combined 21/85, 24.7%, from the field). The Skyforce's lack of a rim protector has cost them, as Fort Wayne has shot 75% in the restricted area in their matchups compared to Sioux Falls' 56%.
Fort Wayne: Sadiel Rojas -- Shooting 24-of-48 (50%) from three over his last 12 games compared to 33-of-106 (31%) in his first 40 games this season.
Sioux Falls: Anthony Mason Jr. -- In 17 games played since March 1, the 27-year-old slashing forward is averaging 15.1 points on 55% shooting in 31.7 minutes per game.
|Game 1||Thursday, April 17||Fort Wayne 113, Sioux Falls 111||Box Score|
|Game 2||Saturday, April 19||Fort Wayne 126, Sioux Falls 118||Box Score|