By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – The West Michigan Lake Hawks have an interesting playoff format.

They are a professional basketball team, competing in the American Basketball Association, but the league playoffs are more like a college tournament.LakeHawks

One loss and you’re done.

Not that the Lake Hawks are expected to lose any time soon in the playoffs, which begin this weekend. They are 12-4 on the season and ranked 14th nationally in the ABA, which has more than 100 teams across the nation.

They finished second in the league’s North Central division this season. The top eight teams from each division make the playoffs.

Even better, the Lake Hawks will have the rare advantage of playing their first playoff game, and potentially the second and third, in their home town of Muskegon.

West Michigan will begin its playoff trek Saturday at 6 p.m. at Reeths-Puffer High School against Oakland County.

The winner will advance to the North Central Final Four, which will be played at Muskegon High School March 14-15. The winner of that two-game tournament goes to Providence, Rhode Island for a two-game regional tournament March 21-22.

The survivor of the regional qualifies for the ABA Elite Eight tournament in Shreveport, Louisiana April 6-13. That’s where the league champion will be crowned.

To win the ABA title the Lake Hawks would have to win eight straight games.

That sounds like a tall order, but Ronald Jenkins, owner and coach of the second-year professional franchise, believes his team has a legitimate chance.

“We’re just praying for the continued health of our players,” said Jenkins, whose team lost by two points in the ABA regional finals last year. “The heart and determination on the part of the players is definitely there. And the first games are here at home. We hoping to have a nice fan base to root these guys on.”

One potential problem for the Lake Hawks has been a recent rash of injuries.

Will Wright, the team’s leading scorer and an ABA All-American last year, has a pulled muscle in a knee, and his status for Saturday is day-to-day.

Post player Donatus Johnson has been hospitalized with a stomach ailment and won’t play this weekend.

Ralph Monday, a top scorer and rebounder, has been dealing with a wrist injury, but is expected to play Saturday.

Despite the injuries, Jenkins said the Lake Hawks have a deep bench that can pick up the slack if necessary.

“We have strong reserves,” Jenkins said. “That’s one thing we pride ourselves on. We can play any of our players at any given time.”

The Lake Hawks bring a lot of offense to the table. Wright leads the way in that category, averaging 21.6 points and 4.8 assists per game, to go with 9.7 rebounds 3.5 steals per game.

Other key players are Monday (21 points, 12 rebounds per game), Kulawnie Saunders (18 points), Lou Williams (17.5 points, 14.8 rebounds), JhaMonte Melton (15.5 points), Idell Bell (11 points, 4.9 assists) and Muskegon Heights graduate David Fox (9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists).