The Mad Ants' theme with eight games left, at least to listen to Ron Howard and Brandon Wallace, is a simple one: Take care of business.
Howard used the phrase twice during a short interview. Wallace used the variation “handle our own business.”
Their point is the Mad Ants will worry about what they can control over the last eight games. If they “take care of business,” they'll make the playoffs. If not, they won't.
“You can't worry about other teams,” coach Duane Ticknor said. “As a coach, you scoreboard watch and players are starting to do that a little bit, but you just have to control what you can control.”
The Mad Ants (21-21) are fighting with Sioux Falls (22-20) and Erie (23-21) for the last of eight spots in the playoffs.
Fort Wayne had at least one edge down the homestretch: The Mad Ants play five of their last eight games at home, starting with three in the next four days.
The Mad Ants play Maine at 7 p.m. Thursday, Austin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Rio Grande Valley at 5 p.m. Sunday, all at Memorial Coliseum.
“That'll be a huge help,” Howard said. “We play well at home because of our fans and we look forward to playing in front of them. We want to encourage our fans to come out and support us and be loud and crazy as usual.”
Ticknor said he has encouraged his players to look at each remaining stretch of games as if they were playoff series. These next three are like a best-of-three series. Next weekend will be similar with games against Iowa, Reno and Texas, the latter two at home.
“Hopefully, we can keep doing what we've been doing,” Ticknor said. “We're 8-4 over our last 12. If we keep playing the way we've been playing, we should be in good shape.”
After the loss to injury of Luke Harangody, presumably for the rest of the season, the Ants picked up veteran forward Terrance Thomas. Thomas has averaged 6.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his three games with the team, but more importantly has fit well into the rotation.
“He plays so hard, he fits right into what we like to do here,” Ticknor said. “He's a tough, hard-nosed guy who plays hard all the time. So he fits us like a glove.”
If the Mad Ants can pull ahead of either Sioux Falls or Erie, they can earn the first playoff berth in the team's six years in the NBA Development League.
“It's big because this is the first time the franchise has really had a good shot to get into the playoffs,” Wallace said. “We'll try to take it one game at a time and handle our own business, and not worry about what other teams are doing.”
Taking care of business – that's what it's all about.