It likely will be the stiffest test of the young season for the Memphis Hustle (3-2) when the NBA G League team hosts the undefeated Sioux Falls Skyforce Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Landers Center. It's a game not to be missed if you're looking for good basketball.
Sioux Falls has fashioned a perfect 6-0 record and leads the Midwest Division as of Thursday, is one of three Western Conference teams that are unbeaten and five G League squads.
Yet the Skyforce has not had a closer challenge than the 126-125 win they claimed as part of the Hustle's opening weekend of play on the road earlier this month.
"I think Sioux Falls is kind of like the Golden State Warriors of the G League," quipped Hustle coach Brad Jones after his team won its third straight with a 110-92 conquest of the Windy City Bulls at the Landers Center Wednesday night. "They're just blowing people out. We had a very good game with them up there when they had played three games in four nights and I thought we had a chance to win up there."
Memphis came away from Wednesday's game with a win, but it wasn't among the most satisfying for Jones' club, missing Yuta Watanabe and D.J. Stephens, called up to play with parent Memphis Grizzlies in Milwaukee.
The Hustle led by just one point at 18-17 after one quarter and held a 45-38 lead at halftime. However, Jones said it was a struggle for his team to get to that point in the opening 24 minutes of play.
"There was nothing I was real happy about in the first half except in the second quarter we started to play better defense," Jones said. "We couldn't get any pace to our offense and they were denying all of our stuff. We started standing around and holding the ball, taking contested three-pointers, which is not who we are."
However, the Hustle played much better in the second half, an effort keyed by better defensive play, said guard Brandon Goodwin, who finished with 23 points to lead the team in scoring.
"We came out with a lot more pace out of the locker room," Goodwin said. "We kept playing great defense throughout the game, getting a lot of stops. I think at one point we had nine stops in a row and we were also scoring as well. Once we got in the flow offensively and we got everybody involved, everything started working really well for us and we started hitting more shots."
It didn't hurt that Memphis also had a 20-4 run to finish the game after giving up the lead at 62-61 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter.
Guard play from Goodwin, Jevon Carter and Markel Crawford was important in the victory. Between the three, they scored 65 points, as Carter and Crawford each scored 21 points for Memphis.
Goodwin currently leads the Hustle in scoring with a 29.5 point-per-game average.
Another difference Wednesday night was in the franchise-record 27 turnovers forced by the Hustle and the 37 points off turnovers that resulted.
"We play a tremendous amount of defense in practice on each other," said Goodwin. "It's like a war, so once we get on the court against another team it makes it a lot easier because we're on the same page defensively. I think we did a great job on defense tonight."
All five Windy City starters scored in double digits, led by C.J. Fair's 16 points and 11 rebounds. Memphis native Ferrakohn Hall chipped in with 13 points off the bench.
Now Sioux Falls comes to town on Saturday and Goodwin is looking toward that challenge.
"I think we're going to play well offensively because we're going to come out with a lot of enthusiasm, but defensively we can't let the shooters get to their spots," Goodwin said.
The first 1,000 fans in attendance Saturday night will receive a free Hustle t-shirt.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.