The regular season is fast approaching, folks, and our Phoenix Suns enter it with the highest expectations of a Suns team in probably at least 15 years. The Oct. 20 opener against the Denver Nuggets aside, because the opener is obviously one to watch, here are five games of the Suns’ first 25 contests you should be sure to catch.
The Game: Oct. 22, @ Los Angeles Lakers.
Why is it must-see?:
Any Lakers-Suns matchup is big for a Suns fan, but this one also has a variety of other story threads that combine to make it more compelling than usual. The Suns ousted the Lakers in a first-round playoff series that actually didn’t feel as close as the 4-2 series tally. Neither Lebron James nor Anthony Davis played particularly well as both were clearly dealing with injuries. Davis, in particular, missed Game 5 and played only five minutes in Game 6.
James proceeded to throw a tantrum on Twitter blaming the NBA for causing the injuries by not giving players adequate rest in the condensed offseason schedule, a move that tasted strongly of sour grapes.
Now the Lakers are back for a new campaign, desperate to claim a final ring in the Lebron James era. They do so with a roster heavy on star power after having brought aboard 10-time all-star Carmelo Anthony and 9-time all-star (and 2017 MVP) Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers will be looking for revenge and to make an early statement that they, not the Suns, are the team to beat in the West.
The Game: Nov. 6, Atlanta Hawks
Why is it must-see? :
The Hawks are a young force in the Eastern Conference, having navigated an impressive run to the Eastern Conference Finals despite an injury-plagued season. They look to be healthy this season, and with star point guard Trae Young at the reigns the Hawks can be a beautiful team to watch.
While it seems unlikely (though hardly impossible) that the Hawks could find themselves opposite the Suns in the finals, it should be a fun game featuring two great point guards and tons of talent under 25. And why do we watch if not for fun?
The Game: Nov. 17, Dallas Mavericks
Why is it must-see?:
In a word? Luka. For good or ill, Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will forever be linked in the minds of many fans. Years after the draft in which the Suns made Ayton their #1 selection and Doncic became the #3 pick, fans of both teams continue to debate the relative merits of both. So far its been the Suns having the upper hand, as Doncic has posted eye-popping stats and garnered two all-NBA selections but the Mavericks have failed to advance beyond the first round of the postseason in his career.
Both guys enter this season looking to silence their remaining doubters. Ayton, just 23 years old, has already been vocal that he wants to establish himself as more than just a third option on offense and prove he can be among the most complete players in the league.
Doncic, only 22, wants to show that he’s more than just empty stats. As a bonus, fans get to see this matchup again just two nights later. But we’ll just count it once.
The Game: Nov. 27, @Brooklyn Nets
Why is it must-see?:
This one almost goes without saying. Not only are the Nets the heavy betting favorites to win the NBA Finals this season, not only are they stacked with a collection of star talent that recalls the 1980s Lakers, but they are also coached by Suns legend Steve Nash.
Less compelling but still of interest is that the game will also feature the Suns’ Landry Shamet and the Nets’ Jevon Carter in their first games against their former clubs, the two having been exchanged in a trade over the summer.
This matchup is very possibly a preview of the NBA finals showdown. If the Nets trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are healthy and in shape (and that’s a big IF), a preponderance of prognosticators expects them to steamroll to the finals.
Will the Suns be there to face them, and how will they fare if so? This game is a first look at that.
The Game: Nov. 30, Golden State Warriors
Why is it must-see?: This is the Suns’ chance to make an early statement that they aren’t going to be dethroned in the West by the last gasp of the declining Warriors dynasty.
Golden State had one of the best runs in modern NBA history from 2014-2019, reaching five consecutive NBA Finals and winning three. But then Klay Thompson suffered knee and achilles injuries that have held him out for two consecutive seasons, two-time MVP Stephen Curry broke his hand and missed nearly all of the chaotic 2019/2020 season, and that felt like curtains for the Warriors as a dominant force.
But Curry, now 33 years old, returned to MVP caliber play last season to lead the Thompson-less Warriors to a 39-33 record and a berth in the NBA’s play-in tournament, fueling speculation that Thompson’s return could mean the return of the Warriors as we knew them...or at least something close to that.
Thompson has been rehabbing his ACL injury, and the Warriors have said his progress will determine his return date. This Nov. 30 date is right around the time many believe he could be ready for action, as ACL surgery rehab is generally said to take a year, and Klay’s surgery was Nov. 25, 2020.
If he’s back, the game will be a true test for both teams. If not, it will still be a chance for the Suns to make a statement against another claimant to their perch atop the West.