It will be Christmas in South Dakota for the Memphis Hustle (Grizzlies) Monday night, playing the Miami Heat's NBA G League affiliate team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, in the first of three road games that will also include stops in Salt Lake City (Jazz) on Wednesday and in Reno (Kings) Thursday, before the Memphis Grizzlies' affiliate team returns home New Year's Eve day for its next home game.
The Hustle headed for snowy South Dakota thinking they were given a shooting lump of coal for Christmas on Friday night in a 121-99 loss to the Austin Spurs at the Landers Center.
Coming off a 1-2 road trip that saw the Hustle win at Santa Cruz (Warriors) 123-115, followed by two close losses at South Bay (Lakers) and Iowa (Timberwolves), the Hustle struggled in the shooting department and finished with 40.2 percent field goal shooting (37-92) against Austin, a percentage that stayed under 40 percent until late in the game.
The Hustle also had to deal with a number of what they likely felt were questionable officiating calls, but coach Glynn Cyprien said his players needed to shrug those challenges off and keep playing hard.
"I talk about it every game, it seems like, but you can't let the officiating affect the way you play," Cyprien said. "You can't let making shots on the offensive end affect the way you play on the defensive end. I thought that affected us early."
After Memphis took a brief lead at the start, the Spurs took advantage of the Hustle's shooting woes and took a 37-20 lead into the first quarter break. It was that lead the Spurs would ride for the remainder of the game.
While Memphis rose up and made challenges, especially in the second half, Austin would answer each run and beat back the Hustle at every turn. The Spurs led by as many as 26 points in the victory, which improved Austin's record to 13-8 for the season.
The Hustle, now 7-13 for the year, had five players score in double figures, but four of them came off the bench. Only starter Ivan Rabb, who was reassigned from the Grizzlies' roster and flew into Southaven just in time for the game, hit double digits with 10 points.
Austin Nichols, the former Memphis Tiger forward, led the way with 21 points for Memphis.
"What Austin is starting to do now is shoot the ball with distance and range and he's starting to shoot with confidence," Cyprien said. "For him to play in the league, that's what he's got to do. He's got to develop his perimeter shooting and he's been fantastic at it, so far."
Jaron Blossomgame, who played college basketball at Clemson, led Austin's six players in double figures with 20 points.
After the upcoming three-game road trip, the Hustle meet Northern Arizona (Suns) on Sunday, Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. at the Landers Center in Southaven.
Up to two kids 12-and-under will receive free entry per paid adult. In addition to the game, kids can enjoy the kids zone featuring inflatables, face painting and more.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.