Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor does not mince words. A pivotal stretch has arrived.
The Ants play three home games in the next five days: against Maine tonight, against Springfield on Saturday and against Canton on Tuesday. With a 2-6 record, Fort Wayne cannot afford to slip further out of the NBA D-League race
“This is a big weekend for us,” Ticknor said. “This three-game homestand is pretty crucial, it's kind of a turning point of the season. We hope we can get momentum going in the right direction.”
The Ants play East Division leader Maine (5-2) at 7:30 tonight at Memorial Coliseum and Springfield (3-2) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Ticknor will have a new lineup to use as he welcomes three NBA players to the mix. Indiana Pacers big man Miles Plumlee returns for his second stint with the team and he'll be joined by 6-6 Kim English and 6-7 Khris Middleton from the Detroit Pistons.
Plumlee, a Warsaw native who played at Duke University, played two games with the Ants earlier in the season. He scored 23 points in a loss to Maine on Nov. 25. English, out of Missouri, and Middleton, out of Texas A&M, will make their first appearances with the Mad Ants.
The Ants have lost four straight games and could be without point guard Walker Russell Jr., who suffered a groin injury on Wednesday night in Canton.
Ticknor said he has seen some improvement in the team at the defensive end of the court but an inability to rebound consistently remains a problem.
“We have to become more aggressive on the glass,” he said.
Among the Ants who have played well lately are returnees Ron Howard and Sadiel Rojas. Howard leads the team with 22.1 points per game with 4.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Rojas, who returned from a severe back injury last season, is averaging 10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Tonight will mark the home debut of Chris Porter, who was signed this week. Porter played only four minutes when he joined the team in Canton for their game on Wednesday.
Ticknor said he has tried to stress to his team that the bulk of the season remains in front of them and not to get bogged down by early losses.
“A couple losses in a row doesn't make a season just like a couple wins doesn't,” Ticknor said. “In the long haul, we're trying to get consistent and be better every day, and I think we've gotten better. There are still some tweaks to do. Some guys who aren't producing, their numbers are going to go down. Some guys off the bench, their numbers are going up.”
Maine returns with guard Shelvin Mack, the Butler product who earned D-League player of the week in part because of his last performance (26 points) against the Mad Ants.