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The 5: Intriguing items on the Suns’ 2017-18 schedule

Thirteen games including the Phoenix Suns will be broadcast on national television for the 2017-18 season, a sign that the team’s entertainment value exceeds expectations for its win total.

It helps that the Suns play in a conference that further swung the competitive balance away from the east due to offseason moves by stars Paul George and Jimmy Butler, among others.

That doesn’t help Phoenix’s chances for winning, however.

Generally, it appears the Suns have a favorable start to the season and a daunting second half. Here are five thoughts on the schedule, including a few of the more anticipated matchups of the year.

Damian Lillard,Marquese Chriss

A favorable start to the season?

Ten of the Suns’ first 16 games of the season will be played at home, and that ends with a season-long, six-game homestand that includes games against the Nets, Heat, Magic, Timberwolves, Lakers and Rockets.

Most would consider four of those games winnable, giving Phoenix a favorable start to the season.

Aside from a Nov. 5 meeting with the San Antonio Spurs, a Nov. 16 outing against the Rockets and two meetings with the Timberwolves, none of the Western Conference foes through, roughly, the first month and a half of the schedule are considered locks to make the playoffs.

However …

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry drives past Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The challenging backend

Even if Phoenix marches into a Jan. 28 game against the Rockets in the top-eight of the standings, expect its lottery fate to be a done deal. From that date through March 8, the Suns play Western Conference foes in 15 of 18 games, and if we’re betting on the season outlooks as of August, they’ll likely be favored in just one, a March 4 outing against the Atlanta Hawks.

The month-long stretch includes two games against each of the Thunder, Grizzlies and Jazz, along with single games versus the West’s Spurs, Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Blazers, Pelicans, Mavericks, Lakers and Nuggets.

They additionally play the Heat, Hawks and Hornets out of the Eastern Conference.

After this daunting month and through the end of the season, five of the Suns’ six total games against last year’s NBA Finals teams from Cleveland and Golden State remain on the schedule.

reggie_jared

The long road trip that’s also a measuring stick

The longest road trip of the season includes two back-to-backs and starts Nov. 26 in Minneapolis before taking the Suns through Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto.

That’s a good mix of teams: some atop each conference, a few in the middle-rung and others expected to be doormats of the league (sorry, Chicago). And that could give Suns fans a decent sampling of where the young Phoenix team is at this point of its development.

Beating a bad Chicago team, an average Detroit squad and Philadelphia’s Process-created roster would be telling that The Timeline is ahead of schedule. Winning two of those three and hanging with Boston and Toronto would be promising if we’re using this as a measuring stick.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) moves toward the hoop against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Matchup to watch, Part I

Between the Suns and Celtics, we can make a power ranking for storylines to watch in the Dec. 2 game at the T.D. Garden and the March 26 game at Talking Stick Resort Arena. An attempt at just that:

1. Target on Booker: Remember Devin Booker scoring 70 points and winning over the Boston crowd last year? Remember the Celtics not liking it one bit, then Booker and Jae Crowder trading barbs on Instagram over how the feat was achieved? Boston is going to send a message to Booker one way or another. Once again, defensive ace Avery Bradley, who didn’t play in that game, won’t be there to stop Booker. He was traded this summer (more on that in a second).

2. The Tatum/Jackson debate: Boston and Phoenix both needed a small forward in the 2017 NBA Draft, and with the third and fourth picks respectively, the order in which they drafted will be forever tied. The Celtics picked Duke scorer Jayson Tatum, and the Suns selected Kansas Swiss Army Knife Josh Jackson. That matchup will be the thing to watch in itself, but building that narrative was Boston president Danny Ainge explaining he didn’t like how Jackson cancelled a workout with the Celtics prior to draft day.

3. Marcus Morris is a Celtic: Here’s to betting the former Phoenix Sun, who was shipped to Boston in the Bradley trade, is still not a huge fan of the way the Suns traded him to Detroit two years ago. Also, here’s to betting Suns fans will still not treat him kindly.

4. Isaiah Thomas is still a thing in Boston: Before the Celtics moved down in the draft, it appeared Thomas’ days in Celtic green could be numbered assuming the team would select Markelle Fultz first overall. Instead Boston traded down, and Thomas is still a huge part of the team’s fabric. Suns GM Ryan McDonough admitted once that he’d like a mulligan on that trade that sent Thomas to the Celtics and allowed him to blossom into an All-Star.

Derrick Jones Jr.,Skal Labissiere

Matchup to watch, Part II

Like the Lakers, Sacramento is expected to challenge the Suns for lottery positioning. And like the Lakers, the Kings also have reasons to believe they can do much better than the expectation.

While Lonzo Ball will draw interest, the Kings present a more compelling matchup for the Suns.

Phoenix faces them on Oct. 23 (home), Dec. 12 (road), Dec. 29 (road) and April 3 (home), and all those those will be key in determining draft odds. However, the Suns and Kings have built-in storylines that go beyond that.

The lottery trade that helped Phoenix draft Marquese Chriss in 2016 also allowed Sacramento to land center Georgios Papagiannis and pick a falling Skal Labissiere 28th overall. This offseason, former Suns draft-and-stash pick Bogdan Bogdanovic inked the richest rookie contract in history to join Sacramento.

How Chriss’ value develops compared to the Kings’ three youngsters that were a part of that trade will undeniably remain a focal-point of the series — it didn’t help that Labissiere cooked Chriss and the Suns for 32 points at the end of last season.

Beyond that, the series includes Dragan Bender and Papagiannis’ underlying beef, and newly-acquired Vince Carter’s own with Booker.

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