NBA D-League Playoff Preview: Fort Wayne Mad Ants vs. Reno Bighorns
In a league with constant roster turnover, it's rare for a single player to become the face of a team. But Ron Howard and Mo Charlo have done just that for the Mad Ants and Bighorns, playing a combined 482 games over 14 seasons in the NBA D-League. They happen to lead two of the most unselfish teams in the league, both relying on continuity and balance rather than individual talent to win this season. Here's how the Mad Ants and Bighorns stack up:
The Breakdown: The 1-8 matchup not surprisingly pits two teams heading in opposite directions. Fort Wayne has won 13 of its last 15; Reno has lost 10 of 14. Fort Wayne has gradually turned into another fast-paced NBA D-League scoring machine, averaging 119.5 points, 106.3 possessions/48 minutes over those 15 games. Reno's efficient offense has broken down during their cold stretch, shooting 33% from three compared to 42% in the 20 games before that (in which the Bighorns went 16-4). But while those signs point to a Mad Ants win, remember that the Bighorns have been battle-tested in the tougher West Division, and could click again at any moment.
Head-to-Head: The two teams met just once this season, on Dec. 26, and the fact that most of the key players involved remain on the teams explains their chemistry. Fort Wayne owned the three-point line (12/21 vs. Reno's 6/24) and the glass (45-33 rebounding advantage) in a 114-89 win that night. Two additional factors to watch during this series will be the turnover battle -- Fort Wayne forces the second-most turnovers per 100 possessions; Reno has the third-highest turnover ratio -- and the free-throw line: Led by the crafty Howard, the league's newly crowned all-time leading scorer, Mad Ants draw fouls at a higher rate than any other team.
Who's Hot: Since his Call-Up to the Bucks, Fort Wayne's Tony Mitchell has learned to channel his explosive athleticism, averaging 22.0 points on 16.7 shots (49% FG) in the nine games since compared to 19.4 points on 17.9 shots (41% FG) in the 21 previous games. Teammate Sadiel Rojas, one of the best dirty work players in the league, has hit 20/38 (53%) from three over his last 10. Most of Reno's roster is cold, but Trent Lockett (14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds over his last nine games) has stepped up in an increased role.
|Game 1||Friday, April 11||Fort Wayne 97, Reno 96||Box Score|
|Game 2||Sunday, April 13||Fort Wayne 115, Reno 93||Box Score|