NBA D-League Semifinals
Mad Ants vs. Sioux Falls Skyforce
Game 1: 8 p.m. Fort Wayne time Thursday in Sanford Pentagon, Sioux Falls
Game 2: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum
Game 3 (if necessary): 7 p.m. Monday at Memorial Coliseum
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As the Mad Ants move into the semifinal round of the NBA Development League playoffs, the challenge gets much tougher.
Sioux Falls finished with only three fewer regular-season wins than the Ants and will open at home. The Skyforce was 19-6 at home in the regular season, tied for league best with Fort Wayne.
Game 1 of the semifinals is 8 p.m. Fort Wayne time Thursday in Sioux Falls.
Here are five keys for the Mad Ants to win the series and reach the D-League Finals:
Yes, scoring gets all the attention. But the Mad Ants are also one of the best in the league at forcing turnovers, working the defensive boards and chasing down loose balls. They'll need all of those assets in this series. The Ants forced Reno into 29 turnovers in the series-deciding Game 2 on Sunday. Sioux Falls is much better than Reno.
Liggins, a 6-foot-6 former University of Kentucky standout, was all over the place against Canton, averaging 16.7 points per game, dishing out 13 assists and pulling down 20 rebounds. He also hit 11 of 20 three-point shots. The question is whether Mad Ants coach Conner Henry will try to slow Liggins with wiry 6-5 Sadiel Rojas. Rojas has a way of irritating whoever he guards. The Ants rotate and switch a lot, so Matt Bouldin, Trey McKinney-Jones and Ron Howard might all get their shot at Liggins.
Fort Wayne's greatest asset on offense is its balance and depth, as shown in the fact seven players averaged at least 10 points per game in the sweep of Reno. Howard took only nine shots in Game 3 and didn't play in the fourth quarter, not because he was hurt, but because the lead kept increasing with the unit on the floor. The little bit of extra rest should help Howard, too.
The Mad Ants have been receiving some strong inside play from 6-8 Will Frisby, 6-11 Tim Ohlbrecht and 6-7 Chris Porter. Frisby had a huge game (20 points, 11 rebounds) in the finale against Reno. Ohlbrecht ran into foul trouble, but he is the type of inside player who can usually find a shot in the post. On another team, Ohlbrecht would likely be a 18-20 ppg man. Sioux Falls is not exceptionally tall.
The Mad Ants missed 17 free throws against Reno in Game 2 and that won't fly against a better team. Over the course of the season, the Ants have been fairly solid at the line. Look for Howard to try to increase his trips to the free-throw line with more driving in an effort to get Sioux Falls quick forwards in foul trouble, too. This series will likely come down to some one or two possession games, and free throws could make the difference.