PORTLAND – One thing is clear about the playoff picture for the Maine Red Claws.

It’s down to the wire.

The Red Claws, who at one point had the best record in the league, have fallen to sixth place with a 27-21 record and two games left: Fort Wayne on Friday followed by Erie on Saturday. Both games will tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Portland Expo.

Maine is in control of its destiny: win both and it’s in.

Split them and it can still get in if No. 9 Reno (25-22) doesn’t sweep its last three games.

Reno would win the first tiebreaker, which is head-to-head.

Lose both, and the team needs help from No. 8 Tulsa (25-21) and/or No. 9 Reno (25-22) who play one another Sunday to close the regular season.

“This is our livelihood,” said guard Maurice Ager. “We have a talented group but we need to come together and have one thing in mind, and that’s to win. If (the urgency) is not there, guys gotta check their hearts.”

The NBA Development League runs its playoffs significantly different than most professional sports.

Eight teams qualify for the postseason. There are three rounds.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Rather than seed No. 1 against No. 8 for the quarterfinals, the top four teams get to choose their first-round opponent from the bottom four.

The top seed picks first, followed by No. 2, and so on.

Each round is a best-of-three series, which opens at the home of the lower seed, giving the higher seed home-court advantage for Games 2 and the decisive Game 3, if necessary.

Maine can finish anywhere from No. 5 to out of the playoffs at No. 9.

If it qualifies, it’s likely to open at home April 7, but no schedule has been finalized.

And the opponent?

“We don’t have any preference at all. Every team left is pretty good,” said Ager.

Maine just returned from an 0-4 trip, where it lost to Dakota and Sioux Falls, and a pair to Reno.

A few things stuck out.

“Our defense needs to improve. And our ball movement on offense needs to get better,” said Coach Austin Ainge.

“We’re really stagnant. We have great players. We just need to get them to play well together.”

Maine has undergone major roster changes this season. And the team’s current lineup has been struggling to find rhythm together.

The games it has won recently have been against some of the league’s weaker opponents.

“This road trip was a wake-up call,” said guard Morris Almond. “We need to focus on defense. And we need more energy.

“At this point there shouldn’t be any more (roster) movement. So we need to play with pride, respect and character.”

Darnell Lazare, a forward who is one of just two players left from the team’s original roster, said he believes they can get it done.

“It’s been fun at times and frustrating at times,” said Lazare. “We still have a talented team. That was a tough road trip. We didn’t get the job done.

“It’s time to win, bottom line.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]