Hoo-rah! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a schedule! It's safe to say that with the tweaking the Suns have done to their roster as opposed to a blow-up or re-load, this season is going to be something of an adventure. Will Murtaugh and Riggs Grant Hill and Steve Nash finally be "too old for this $#!%?" Will Amare Stoudemire become the first NBA player to go an entire season rocking an eyepatch, prompting tons of Am-ARRRR'e jokes? Will Jason Richardson learn to rotate on defense and perhaps prevent Roger Mason, Jr. Eric Gordon from putting a heartbreaking lump of coal in Suns' fans' stocking this Christmas? Well, while we have questions about how our cast of characters will handle their journey this season, we've now got a road map.
Join me after the jump for the highlights.
October 28, @ LA Clippers - While The Blake Show makes it's official debut the night before against The Lake Show, the Suns will get their first regular season look at #1 overall draft pick Blake Griffin who will terrorize the Pacific Division for years to come. Amar'e Stoudemire might want to pay attention or he could easily end up on Griffin's first official NBA poster. If you haven't yet seen Griffin play, this is a must-watch game. Also, it's opening day, so I'm going to have to question your fanhood if you're not circling this date on your calendar in purple and orange Sharpie.
October 30, vs. Golden State - Home opener. Heralded rookie Stephen Curry comes to town. After seeing him in Summer League, I don't think he was quite the icing on the Amar'e Stoudemire Trade Cake that he was made out to be. Given Nellie's "on or off his meds" approach to rotations, Suns fans may or may not get to see what they didn't get in the thwarted deal. It should be a fun game nevertheless as it will pit two of the higher octane offenses in the NBA. As Phoenix Stan recently said, "The Warriors are going to look awfully good losing 40-50 games this season."
November 1, vs. Minnesota - 3-0 start? I hope so, because...
November 3, @ Miami; November 4 @ Orlando; November 6, @ Boston; November 8, @ Washington; November 9, @ Philadelphia (NBA TV) - 2 back-to-backs. 4 playoff teams. 5 games. 7 nights. As far as road trips go, this is the biggest ugliest one the Suns have all season. It'll be interesting to see if the Suns try and go to their bench youth this early in the season to limit Nash's and Hill's minutes. As I expect Phoenix to be experimenting early and often with their rotation, the season could get off to a bumpy start and it doesn't get much bumpier than this cross-country excursion.
November 11, vs. New Orleans (ESPN); November 12, @ LA Lakers (TNT) - Back-to-back games on national television? 1 day after the aforementioned east coast barnstorming tour? For those of you keeping score, that's 1 NBA Champion, 1 NBA Finalist, 3 back-to-backs, 4 At-Large Playoff Teams, 6 road games, 7 total -- in the span of 10 days. If the Suns manage to be at or above .500 at this point in the season, they should really get a parade and automatic play-off berth. However, if recent history (an 18-23 road record last year and an absolutely abysmal record* on nationally televised games) prevails, this stretch of the schedule could be hide-your-eyes ugly.
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At this point, you might be saying to yourself, "Why all the gloom and doom? The Suns ought to have a nice break coming up soon, right?"
Wrong. 17 of the Suns' first 26 games are on the road. To put that in perspective, between October 28 and Dec. 17, the Suns will play at US Airways Center 9 times. Nine.
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November 27, @ Minnesota; November 29, @ Toronto; December 1, @ New York; December 2, @ Cleveland - After a nifty little 3 home, 2 away stretch, the Suns hit the road again. Interesting note about this road trip: one of these games is on ESPN. Guess which one?
Lebron and the Big Witness vs. the most recent team Shaq couldn't win a ring with?
Gentry's SSOL 2.0 vs. D'Antoni's SSOL 2.0?
The Team That Jerry Built vs. The Team That Bryan Is Building?
Or maybe David Kahn has some incriminating photos of the NBA scheduling committee. World Wide Leader, I don't understand you sometimes.
December 6, @ Lakers; December 8, @ Dallas; Dec. 11, vs. Orlando (ESPN); Dec. 12, @ Denver; Dec. 15, vs. San Antonio; Dec. 17, @ Portland (TNT) - Another unkind stretch of schedule. Again the Suns face the 2 NBA Finalists in less than a week. Oh and the other teams in this stretch aren't exactly slouches either. It also marks the first time the Purple Gang will match up against the Matrix Reloaded version of the Dallas Mavericks and the ridiculously stacked nouveau Spurs. Which one of these games do you realistically see the Suns winning? Maybe Portland. If they can keep Brandon Roy to under 45 points that is.
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At this point Suns fans, let's all take a deep breath. We're just shy of a third of a way through the schedule (and no, I won't go into this much detail for the remaining 56 games) and I've got the Suns right around the .500 mark. I would not be surprised if they were even below .500 at this point.
DON'T PANIC! The season is a marathon, not a sprint and this particular marathon starts off uphill, in the rain, with a blown ACL. But around about here I could see the fanbase getting anxious and starting to round up some torches and pitchforks and Google Mapping Steve Kerr's address. I could also see Steve Kerr reaching for the "Blow-Up Button" on his desk and trading Amar'e and Nash for a bucket of fish sticks and a ride back to San Diego. To both of you, I say, "Relax."
82 games total, 41 home, 41 away. From this point on the Suns have 32 of the former and 24 of the latter. Things can only get better from here, no?
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December 19, vs. Washington; December 21, vs. Cleveland (NBA TV); December 23 vs. Oklahoma City; December 25, vs. LA Clippers (ESPN) - 4-game homestand! 3 games against teams with losing records last season! The right (Cleveland) game on national TV! A Christmas Day game that's winnable! Christmas Day Quintuple-Header! I! LOVE! THIS! GAME!
This also kicks off a lovely stretch of schedule that features 10 home games versus 2 road games against some pretty unremarkable competition with the above Cleveland game and consecutive home dates against the Lakers (Dec. 28) and Celtics (Dec. 30) being the exceptions.
January 13, vs. Indiana; January 15, vs. Atlanta; January 16, vs. Charlotte; January 18, vs. Memphis - Don't you just love road trips that don't involve playoff teams? (What?! Atlanta? The #4 seed? Stupid Eastern Conference...)
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I'm going to just skip right over the next couple weeks of the season (5-1 home stretch followed by another 4-game roadie) to get to the All-Star Break. I think, with the exception of that little 4 game streak at home, we've suffered enough indignities at the hands of the scheduling gods, don't you think? Ha ha! No! Still one more to come!
Anyway, All-Star Game. February 14. Valentine's Day. If the Suns start Stoudemire at the 5 this season, he's a lock to be the Western Conference starting center. And Nash'll probably squeak in on the second team. Regardless of what kind of love Cupid shows the Suns in the form of All-Star roster spots, just know that beginning February 19, our boys play 13 of the next 17 at home.
So like, if they suck during this stretch, it's cool to, you know, panic and stuff. And you should probably have been panicking when they were 10-16, despite my best efforts to be sane and reasonable about this whole business. And Steve Kerr, you absolutely should have pulled the trigger on the Stoudemire-Okafor deal when you had the chance (or the Stoudemire-fish sticks trade. Same diff.) Mid-season trades always work for this team. What made you think that one wouldn't?
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February 21, vs. Sacramento; Feb. 23, @ Oklahoma City; Feb. 24, vs. Philadelphia; Feb. 26, vs. LA Clippers - That's a nice run against some bad teams. It's places like this where it will be crucial for the Suns to rack up wins if they hope to make the playoffs. Yes, they definitely need to beat playoff teams as well, but if they're not winning the games they're supposed to win they won't even have a fighting chance.
March 4, vs. Utah; March 6, vs. Indiana; March 12, vs. LA Lakers; March 14, vs. New Orleans; March 16, vs. Minnesota; March 19, vs. Utah; March 21, vs Portland - That's seven, count'em, SEVEN home games in a row. Combine that with the relative ease of their late February schedule and the Suns are in a pretty good position to make a late push for the playoffs. Sure, most of these teams were in the playoffs last season, BUT, at this point in the season the Suns should know who they are. And if they are serious about making some noise in the post-season, then taking 5 of these 7 shouldn't be too much to ask. (Oh, and dig that wacky 6 day break between the Pacer and Laker games. 6 days without Suns basketball? That's like the opposite of Shark Week!)
March 28, @ Minnesota; March 30, @ Chicago; March 31, @ New Jersey; April 2, @ Detroit; April 3, @ Milwaukee - That final scheduling whammy I alluded to earlier? Here it is: a 5-game tour of the midwest with 9 games remaining in the season. Again, if these Suns are in fact a playoff team then that shouldn't matter. These teams are not the cream of the crop and road trip or not, this needs to be a 4-1 or 5-0 streak to close out strong.
April 7, vs. San Antonio; April 9, @ Oklahoma City; April 11, vs. Houston; April 13, vs. Denver; April 14 @ Utah - Yeah. About that closing out strong thing. San Antonio, Denver, Utah. Not exactly one's ideal closing stretch, but a good test of what this team is made of heading into the post-season. If the Suns can't take at least 3 of these 5, they probably weren't going to do a whole lot of damage in the playoffs anyway.
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As I said, the first third and maybe even the first half of this season is going to require some patience. About the only thing I will say for certain is that if the Suns do come out hot and and start winning early in the season, that bodes well as the bulk of their heavy lifting is front-loaded onto the schedule. But for that same reason I wouldn't take anything terribly troubling away from a mediocre to below-average start.
After going through the entire schedule, I feel pretty comfortable saying these Suns are a borderline playoff team at best. There's only so many times I can look at the schedule and think to myself "They have to play <insert Western Conference playoff team here> how many times?!" While Houston is pretty much a shell of its former self, the remainder of the 2008-2009 Western Conference playoff squads are formidable teams. Hopefully that's good enough for the Suns to land an eight seed.
And if it's not, imagine how long that 2010-2011 schedule is going to look.
*If anyone has or can find the Suns' record on nationally televised games, I'll be more than happy to add it and cite you. I know it was horrendous, but I couldn't track it down. Thanks!