Maine Red Claws (27-21) vs. Fort Wayne Mad Ants (21-28) 7:30 PM Friday, April 2, at the Portland Expo
Maine Red Claws (27-21) vs. Erie BayHawks (19-29) 7:30 PM Saturday, April 3, at the Portland Expo
By dropping four straight on a road trip, the Maine Red Claws have backed themselves into a corner.
After being one of the top teams in the league for most of the season, they’ve struggled of late, and their “magic number” has been stuck at two. Any combination of Red Claws wins and losses from the Reno BigHorns equaling that number will clinch a playoff spot for the Red Claws. They’re bringing in a bit of Team Green magic this weekend to help – tonight is Celtics Affiliate Night, so they’ll be wearing Celts uniforms, and Saturday is Fan Appreciation Day, with Tommy Heinsohn making the trek to Maine for the game.
Although the Red Claws are somewhat fortunate in that they are playing two mediocre teams with losing records this weekend, they have struggled against the Mad Ants this year, going 2-4 against the Pacers affiliate. The last loss was 94-108 in Indiana just two weeks ago, but Maine has also destroyed the Mad Ants in both the Expo and Indiana. Morris Almond had 25 points in that loss while Paul Davis added 20, but the real problems were in the defense. Maine was unable to contain Oliver Lafayette, who went on a tear with 34 points. Moreover, the Claws bench had an off night, providing little assistance to the starters. Fortunately, while Maine hasn’t played since Saturday, the Mad Ants just played in Springfield last night, destroying the Armor.
The results have been better against the BayHawks. Maine is 7-0 against the BayHawks this season, though two of those games – one at the Expo and one in the Keystone State – were close games. The big threat from Erie is guard Mike Gansey, who’s knocked in 20 against the Claws before. Cedric Jackson, who’s been averaging 16 points per game and has stepped it up this month, would be a concern, but he just earned a ten-day contract with the Washington Wizards. Apparently they needed another shooter (sorry, couldn’t resist).
The Red Claws, of course, can’t count on what anyone else does, so they need to win both of these games. Hopefully the superb home atmosphere of the Expo will help them in the playoff push. Regardless, Bill Ryan, Jon Jennings, and Austin Ainge should be proud of their accomplishments this season, as they’ve set a new standard for the D-League with their efforts in their inaugural season.