For most of the season, the question was whether the Dakota Wizards were good enough to make the D-League playoffs.
A more appropriate question now is whether they’re good enough to be D-League champions.
The Wizards looked the part Monday, clinching a postseason berth with an impressive 111-92 win over the Bakersfield Jam.
The Wizards (27-20) have now won seven of their last eight games and pulled into a tie for first place in the East Conference.
“We’ve got three games left, and we just want to keep on playing our game,” said Wizards guard Stefhon Hannah, who had 24 points and 11 assists. “It’s Wizards basketball — boxing out, rebounding the ball and keep sharing the ball. If we do that, everything else will fall in place.”
The D-League standings are so tight the Wizards could still easily drop to seventh.
But right now they are in a dead heat with Springfield atop the East. Their final three games are against the two teams with the worst records in the
D-League — at home against Sioux Falls tonight, then two in Fort Wayne.
The East Conference champ will get the No. 2 seed, behind West winner Los Angeles, which has the best overall record.
“We clinched tonight, but it’s so big to finish the regular season strong,” Wizards coach Nate Bjorkgren said. “There’s a big difference between a two seed and a five seed.
“We want homecourt advantage for as long as we can.”
The Wizards nearly led wire-to-wire, but there were some anxious moments in the third.
Edwin Ubiles had the hot hand early, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the first quarter. That helped Dakota build an advantage that reached 13 points in the first half.
But Bakersfield made a run, taking its first lead of the game (64-63) when Travis Leslie scored on a lob with 5:48 to go in the third. The teams traded the lead once more before the
Wizards went ahead for good. But it wasn’t until a few minutes later that the Wizards went for the throat.
Dakota went on a 15-0 run over the last 2:31 of the third period, blowing the lead out to 88-71.
After lay-ups by Tommy Smith and Hannah, Taylor Griffin hit a 3-pointer. Then the Wizards guards took over. Baker hit a long 2 and followed it up with a three-point play.
You have free articles remaining.
Then with time winding down in the quarter, Hannah lost the ball, chased it down at halfcourt and swished a 3 at the buzzer.
“Our guys just started being more aggressive and attacking off made and missed baskets,” Bjorkgren said. “Then they started spreading it around.
“When a team is really in attack mode, it’s tough to slow down, because the players are so good.”
Hannah, who had been named the D-League performer of the week earlier in the day, has developed a lethal chemistry with Baker. The veteran point guard complemented Hannah with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting and six rebounds.
“We’re both point guards, and it’s like pick your poison,” Hannah said. “He can bring it up. I can bring it up. He can shoot the ball. I can shoot the ball.
“The way we’re playing right now, it’s so unselfish, it’s scary.”
That resulted in plenty of big dunks for Chris Wright. The rookie forward, on assignment from the Golden State Warriors, had 19 points and six rebounds. Griffin scored 11, while Marcus Dove contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Jam was led by Trey Johnson, who came off the bench to score 16 points. Long-time former Wizard Renaldo Major chipped in 10.
With a playoff berth secured, the Wizards can now turn their focus squarely on winning the conference.
“It’s been addressed since Day 1 — that’s been the goal,” Bjorkgren said. “If you attack that goal, then other things can happen.”
Bakersfield 21 46 71 92
Wizards 24 52 88 111
BAKERSFIELD (92): Renaldo Major 3-7 4-4 10, Adam Koch 2-2 0-0 4, Brian Butch 4-9 4-5 14, Derrick Byars 2-5 0-0 5, Jeremy Wise 3-8 6-8 12, Trey Johnson 7-16 2-2 16, Jamie Vanderbeken 1-5 0-0 3, Juan Pattillo 6-10 0-0 12, Travis Leslie 6-9 0-2 13, Adrian Thomas 6-9 0-2 13. Totals 35-75 16-21 92.
WIZARDS (111): Edwin Ubiles 6-12 1-4 15, Chris Wright 9-12 1-1 19, Marcus Dove 5-10 0-2 10, Stefhon Hannah 8-17 3-3 24, Maurice Baker 9-11 1-1 21, Tommy Smith 2-4 0-0 4, Shy Ely 0-0 0-0 0, Justin Johnson 1-4 2-3 4, Leo Lyons 1-3 1-2 3, Taylor Griffin 4-6 0-0 11, Mike Anderson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 45-80 9-16 111.
3-pointers: B 6-20 (Butch 2-6, Leslie 1-1, Byars 1-3, Thomas 1-4, Vanderbeken 1-5, Wise 0-1), W 12-21 ( Hannah 5-9, Griffin 3-5, Baker 2-2, Ubiles 2-5). Rebounds: B 37 (Butch 8), W 50 (Dove 11). Assists: B 18 (Wise 7), W 26 (Hannah 11). Steals: B 12 (Wise 5), W 6 (Dove 2). Blocks: B 4, W 2. Turnovers: B 16, W 20. Total fouls: B 17, W 19. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: B 0, W 3 (Griffin, two defensive three second).
Records: B 27-20, W 27-20.