It was a really disappointing effort by the Claws, who had a chance to make up some ground on Iowa and firmly ensconce themselves at the top of the playoff rankings. It’s worth taking a moment to explain the D-League playoffs. The top two teams in each conference automatically get in, and they get the privilege of choosing their opponents. Right now, those two teams are the Iowa Energy (East) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (West). Then the next six teams overall, regardless of conference, make it to the playoffs. In other words, except for the conference leader, it could be all Western conference teams.
As things stand, three teams are eligible for the playoffs from each conference, and Maine would play Sioux Falls or Dakota; the Claws are 1-3 and 1-1 against them, respectively, with matchups remaining against both teams. With just three-game series all the way the playoffs, every game is a big game. If they’re going to be positioned well and succeed in the playoffs, the Claws need to show they can win in big games. So far there’s been no evidence of that, and the defeat Sunday night was just the latest example.
This game was in many ways a reverse of Friday. This time it was the Energy jumping out to an early lead right from the gate, and it was the Claws who looked slow and unsure of themselves. Maine’s defense was spotty and unreliable Sunday, with just 35 total rebounds to Friday’s 60 and five fewer blocked shots. The Claws had a real opportunity here: with just a twelve-point loss and virtually no contributions from Iowa’s bench, even given their reduced playing time, shutting down one of the Energy’s starting five could have made this a win. Instead, the Energy had the kind of balanced offense that you usually see from Maine, with every starter scoring between 14-20 points. Jeff Trepagnier, for example, had 16 points in 33 minutes after hitting zero in 21 minutes on Friday.
The Red Claws could hang their hat on the excellent play of Morris Almond, who almost kept the Claws in it single-handedly with an impressive 29-point performance. Even for Almond, though, his defensive play suffered dramatically compared to Friday. Only one other starter, Russell Robinson, managed to reach double digits. Marcus Landry, meanwhile, continues to mystify: while he played more minutes than Friday, his stat line was virtually identical, and there weren’t a whole lot of intangible contributions to be pleased with, either. It’s not hard to see why he wasn’t getting any playing time with the Knicks; it is hard to see why the Celtics were interested in him.
Maine is going to have to step it up and increase their focus and intensity for the rest of the season. With just ten games left, every night is vitally important to the standings, and they have to step on to the court with playoff intensity every night. That kind of intensity will not only please and impress Portland fans, but NBA scouts as well. At times, individual and team goals can clash, especially at the minor-league level, but for the Red Claws those should be basically in sync for the rest of the season.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Morris Almond
NEXT THREE: Tuesday, March 16, @ Fort Wayne Mad Ants (14-27)…Wednesday, March 17, vs. Albuquerque ThunderBirds (18-24), 7:30PM…Friday, March 19, vs. Albuquerque ThunderBirds, 7:30PM