It’s schedule release week, and as the NBA slowly informed the public of who was playing who and when, we eagerly awaited the matchups. Or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’re in the camp of “we have to play everyone anyways, who cares when?”. And to you I say, doing my best Michael Irvin impression, “C’mon man! It’s August! We’ve gotta have hope in something!”.
Since it’s release, the schedule has been picked and prodded, analyzed and dissected. We know that there are 14 back-to-backs, 37 nationally televised games, and the Suns are playing on opening night, Halloween, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, St. Patty’s Day, and Valentine's Day. More to love, right?
What makes the 2023-24 schedule unique when compare to the 55 previous seasons in Suns’ history is that this will be the first time the In-Season Tournament will occur. In an effort to drum up some excitement early in the season, most likely in an attempt to compete with the NFL, the NBA has created a tournament that begins with group play and ends in Las Vegas in early December.
The Suns have drawn Group A in the Western Conference, which consists of the Lakers, Grizzlies, jazz, and Trailblazers. Which brings us to this week’s SB Nation Reacts poll of the week.
There is no doubt that, when it says, “Lakers” on the schedule, Phoenix fans are engaged. A geographic rivalry that has existed since the dawn of the franchise, Phoenix and Los Angeles have a long history of fierce battles and organizational disdain.
Phoenix will kick off their In-Season Tournament play on November 10 at home against the Lakers and there will plenty riding on the game. A win for Phoenix is a solid start to tournament play, as a 4-0 or 3-1 record will most likely be needed to survey group play and advance to the elimination round.
Surely, that is what Phoenix wants to do, even if they are not actually seeking it out. The way the scheduling plays out, with the tournament games woven throughout the schedule, will create intriguing matchups but not necessarily a “must win” mentality. Every game is important, especially for a Suns team that will be learning to play together early on in the season with the weight of expectation resting snuggly on their shoulders.
When you take a step back and look at Group A as a whole, yes, the Suns should be favored. Per DraftKings, the Lakers win total is set at 48.5, the Grizzlies are at 45.5, the Jazz are at 35.5, and the Blazers, due to the uncertainty around Damian Lillard, don’t have a line. Phoenix is at 51.5 (ahem, pound the over...).
But any team can win at any time in the NBA. Through the ebbs and flows of the season, if the Suns do not make it out of group play, the question you have to ask is whether or not you will be disappointed. It is completely plausible.
It all begins with the Lakers in early November. We won’t know how we feel about the In-Season Tournament until the results of the game go final.
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