Rest time is over for the Mad Ants. It's time for the push for that long elusive playoff berth.
The Ants sit at 15-17 with 18 games to play, well within reach of the playoff race, but without a lot of margin to spare. The good news is guard Ron Howard appears back nearly to full strength. The bad news is forward Luke Harangody will miss some time with lingering knee issues.
After a break for the NBA Development League All-Star game, most of the team returned refreshed and invigorated, Ants coach Duane Ticknor said.
Howard scored 16 points with five assists in the all-star game and forward Tony Mitchell won the slam-dunk contest.
“I love the chemistry of this team, the attitude of the team and the work ethic,” Ticknor said. “We just have to continue to try to improve. Don't worry about the wins and losses. Get better every day and that will take care of itself.”
The Ants will play at Erie on Friday and at Springfield on Saturday before heading back for a five game home stint, starting against Erie again next Tuesday. The stretch also includes Canton and Bakersfield, two of the best teams in the D-League.
“Every team in this league is a pretty good team,” Ticknor said. “Even though we'll be playing at home (for a stretch), we still have to come out and perform. Two weeks ago, we didn't play too well. We got blitzed by a team we should have competed with.
“I know we love playing in the coliseum. The fans have been great since we came off that long (January) road trip. The crowds are really good. We hope we can give them something to come out and watch.”
Harangody will be out for an undetermined period, perhaps as long as two weeks, as he allows his knee to heal. He had a knee procedure after last season, but it's his other knee that has been sore over the last few weeks. After putting Harangody on the injured list, the Ants signed Indiana Tech product Bryant Austin to fill out the roster. Austin, originally an eighth-round draft pick by the Ants, was released before the season but has worked out with the team so he's familiar with his teammates.
In Harangody's absence, veteran Anthony Richardson will likely shoulder some additional offensive load.
It's possible the Ants will have Pacers rookie Miles Plumlee during the home stand next week, but nothing has been announced yet.
“This is a new start to the end of the season,” Ticknor said. “It's been like a mini-training camp and we put a lot of new stuff in. Everybody is so well-scouted this time of the year, you have to make some changes. We did some defensive changes before the break. Now we're doing some offensive things.”