The last thing the Phoenix Suns want is to be out of the playoff picture by Christmas. But a road heavy schedule, including 24 road games vs. 16 home games, will provide a big test to their playoff aspirations.
Opening stretch (9 games, 7 at home)
The Suns will need a hot start to the season before a long road stretch. Seven of the first nine games of the season are at home, and nearly each one is intriguing for one reason or another.
There isn't a dud in the bunch. In the first week of the season, the Suns see the Lakers twice. It's always fun to play (and beat) the Lakers. They should have Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in their lineup (early enough not to be re-injured yet), but won't be sporting young Kendall Marshall who was waived in the offseason for cap space.
Also in this season-opening stretch, new guard Isaiah Thomas gets to face his former teammates in Sacramento, sure to be a bitter-sweet game for him.
The Suns get to see how Steve Kerr, their former GM, can coach a team. He's fortunate (smart) to be coaching an ultra-talented team that could finish in the top 4 of the West despite not landing Kevin Love for table scraps.
Road Grind - Part A (13 games, 10 on road)
After starting with 7 of 9 at home, the Suns then embark on a really long stretch of mostly road games. You'll hear the team saying that it's a great opportunity to bond with one another, being away from home so much. Sometimes that's true, sometimes it's not.
But the truth is that few NBA teams put together a winning road record on the season, so this could be a tough period for fans watching the playoff seedings.
First up, the Suns play 10 of their next 13 on the road, starting with a season-long 6-game roadie.
There are definitely some winnable games here, but the stretch is bookended by tough road games against the Clippers sandwiching a plethora of games against West teams that will be tough.
A brief respite (4 games, 3 at home)
After that grind, the Suns get a brief break with 3 of 4 at home in what might be seen as the cream puff part of their home schedule.
Still, the Thunder are right in the middle here. But homies against the Heat (likely missing Wade by now), the Pistons (likely still fighting for a good lineup) and the Bucks (Kendall Marshall comes home!) should be worth a couple of needed wins, if not all three.
They will need to win 3 of 4 here, considering the road gets real tough again.
Another grind (14 games, 11 on road)
This grind shouldn't be as difficult as the first one, despite all the road games.
Much of this 14 game sked is winnable, with only a few killer games to contend with. If the Suns haven't fallen apart by now, this stretch should help them build confidence for the rest of the season.
By now, the team has played 24 of 40 games on the road, meaning that the second half of the season will be heavily weighted at home.
Getting stronger (14 games, 11 at home, 5 on national TV)
Finally, the season will starting hitting it's stride for the Suns on national TV. After only 1 national TV game in the first 40, the Suns see a stretch of 5 in 12 games.
This stretch also includes the Suns longest home game stretch in years. 8 straight at home.
It took a while, and hopefully after playing so many road games the Suns are still in the thick of the playoff picture, but finally TNT and ESPN are ready to see a lot of Suns games.
Let's hope the Suns get up for the games as much as last year. The Suns went 3-1 on ESPN games last year, likely an important fact during this year's scheduling.
All-Star Break/Trade Deadline
The Tuesday, February 10 game against the Rockets is the last game the Suns will play for the next 10 days - a new tweak on this year's schedule to give guys more time off. Specifically, the players in the All-Star games and/or participating in All-Star events have complained that they don't get any needed down time. After 54 games, everyone will need a bit of a break.
Let's hope the Suns have 1 or 2 players in the actual All-Star game this year (Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe are candidates), as well as participants in the Rising Stars Challenge (T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin), dunk contest (Gerald Green? Goodwin?), three-point shooting contest (Green?) and Skills Challenge (Dragic?).
The All-Star Break, especially as extended to 10 days, allows teams to negotiate their deadline deals. Who knows who the Suns will be trading/acquiring during this period. It all depends on that first 54 games.
If the Suns are in playoff position, it's unlikely they will shake up the core of the team right here. They didn't do it last year.
But if the road-heavy opening schedule sinks the Suns in the first half, this might be time for a little movement.
Part two coming tomorrow
This post is already getting long, and we all have ADD as we read the internets. So, I'll stop here and let you chew on this for a day.