Sioux Falls Skyforce prepare for NBA G-League playoffs
Miami Heat affiliate are in postseason for first time since title-winning season of 2016
SIOUX FALLS — For the first time since 2016, the Skyforce are going to the NBA G-League playoffs. That year, they won the title. Can they do it again?
If their recent play is any indication, yeah, they can. The Force closed out the regular season by obliterating playoff-bound Memphis on Saturday night, their sixth straight win. Nobody in the G-League is taking more momentum into the playoffs than Sioux Falls.
"It's exciting," said Skyforce coach Kasib Powell. "We've been waiting for this, as a city and as an organization as well. From the Heinemans (ownership) on down, everybody who's been working in this organization on a daily and yearly basis has just really been looking forward to this for a long time. It's a great thing."
But making a run won't be easy. Sioux Falls opens the postseason on Tuesday at Salt Lake City, where they take on the Stars in a single elimination game. Win that, and they get another win-or-go-home. Win that and, you guessed it, another single-game to advance. Win that, and finally, they're in a 3-game series for the championship.
That, Powell said, gives these playoffs something of a March Madness feel. But with the way his team has played down the stretch, that certainly isn't a bad thing.
"We're very excited," said swingman D.J. Stewart, who averages 21.1 points per game on the season. "Being here last year and going through what was an up-and-down season and then not getting the chance (for the playoffs), and now this year seeing this big turnaround and having a chance to play for a championship — it's very exciting."
The Force (20-12) enter the playoffs not just on a six-game winning streak, but with a beefed up roster, high-scoring offense and a group that Powell says genuinely enjoys playing together, wants to win and cares about going deep into the playoffs.
Stewart is one of a handful of players that give the Force confidence they can make a run. Michael Mulder has been Powell's most reliable and consistent presence, appearing in 31 of the team's 32 games and averaging 17.2 points while making a league-high 126 3-pointers.
Miami Heat two-way players Jamal Cain (22.1 points) and Orlando Robinson (19.8) have given the team a boost, while point guard Jamaree Bouyea averages 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and shoots a blistering 55 percent from the floor. Throw in the contributions of Kadeem Jack, Sam Thompson, Jon Elmore, Landon Kirkwood, Brandon McCoy and Justin Champagnie and the Force have impressive depth. They've bought into Powell's message to play as a team and work as hard on the defensive end as they do on offense, and the coach gives the players the credit.
"They all get along with each other and they all play really hard," said Powell, a former Skyforce player and assistant who played in 11 NBA games with the Heat in 2008. "They're happy for each other's success. They really want to make a long run, and they're the ones who deserve the credit for us being here. Once the players buy in it's easy for everyone to follow. We have the talent and the team to make a deep run."
Powell said there were signs that would be the case early in the year, but his team especially started to click of late. Having the two-way players is a big factor, but Powell said the way they fit in with the rest of the squad is just as important. Powell's debut season as the Force's head coach was difficult, but now the former Texas Tech star has the team executing his vision. If they can continue to do that, they'll be a dangerous team in these playoffs.
"When it's one-and-done you can't take nothing for granted," Stewart said. "We have to go out and play basketball the way we know how. It's just about playing together and playing team defense. When we play good defense things go our way on offense, too. We definitely have what it takes to make a run."