Maine Red Claws vs. Fort Wayne Mad Ants Preview
The NBA D-League Playoffs are finally among us as eight teams look to raise the championship trophy this year. This will also be the final year it will be considered a D-League Championship as the league will re-brand itself as the NBA Gatorade League (G-League) next season.
For those unfamiliar with the D-League Playoff format, each round is a Best-of-3 series with the lower seed hosting Game 1 at home each round.
Maine Red Claws (2) vs. Fort Wayne Mad Ants (3)
This is a very intriguing series for a number of reasons.
First, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants actually finished with a better record than the Maine Red Claws, but because Maine won the Atlantic Division title, they receive the higher seed.
Fort Wayne will be without Alex Poythress, who just signed a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers after the team was granted an injury hardship.
That leaves the frontcourt duties to Ben Bentil and Georges Niang, who is on assignment from the Indiana Pacers. In six games with Fort Wayne this season, Niang has averaged nearly 20 points to go with over seven rebounds while shooting 44% from the field.
Bentil has been a solid hand as well for the Mad Ants. After joining the team opening night, Bentil left to play overseas in China on a 60-day contract due to an injured player. Bentil returned to Fort Wayne and earned himself a call-up with the Dallas Mavericks.
In the backcourt, Marquis Teague will be a factor for Fort Wayne. Dealt at the trade deadline, he replaces Julyan Stone, who signed overseas after appearing in 33 games with Fort Wayne this season. He’s a solid veteran hand who will contribute on the offensive end as well.
One of the last players acquired off waivers this season, Tyler Hansbrough, aka Psycho T, has been monstrous for Fort Wayne, averaging a double-double for the team (17.6 points, 12.2 rebounds) while shooting over 50% from the floor. He’s a physical body that will help to contain Maine’s strong frontcourt as well.
When it comes to the Red Claws, they too have a very talented roster, with Rookie of the Year candidate Abdel Nader leading the way at point guard, and Jalen Jones considered one of the top D-League players dominating on the low block.
The question mark for the Red Claws involves a certain Dancing Bear, or Ours Dansant if you’re French, as Celtics rookie draft pick Guerschon Yabusele joined the team late in the regular season and appeared in their final two regular season games.
He’s mobile, agile and it’s easy to see why he was anointed such a nickname with his great footwork. He’s acclimated very quickly into the Red Claws rotation.
In those two games, Yabusele averaged 18.5 points and 10 rebounds while shooting nearly 65% from the field in 25 minutes per contest. His minutes have been limited as he comes off a late-season ankle injury he suffered in China, where he spent most of the regular season.
Oh and he also shot 4-of-6 from three-point range over those two games. So the Dancing Bear has range, that’s nice.
Maine is loaded up with Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson also suiting up for the Red Claws in this series.
- Fort Wayne will have its work cut out for it in this series as they have little film to go about scouting Yabusele, nor was he someone they played against during the regular season.
- Though this series is the first to tip-off this postseason on Tuesday night, Game 2 will not take place until almost a week later as the Portland Expo Arena will be used for a “Home Expo” April 7-9, leaving the Red Claws with few options (though last year they did schedule a game at a different arena in the area).
- The third-consecutive playoff berth for head coach Scott Morrison and the Red Claws, he has yet to earn a playoff victory in that span. Will that change in this series?
- Neither team is prone to steals, as Maine averages the fewest per game in the D-League (6.5), while Maine is tied for third-fewest (7.5). Maine averages the fewest field-goals made in the D-League this season (36.9), while Fort Wayne is Top-10 (40.6). Pushing the tempo might be a strategy against Maine to see how they can keep up with the higher pace and test Yabusele’s endurance on the ankle.