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Six intriguing games on the Suns’ 2018-19 schedule

Phoenix Suns' Brandon Knight, center, passes between Golden State Warriors' Shaun Livingston, left, and David West (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Release day for the NBA schedule serves up a lot of snooze-worthy statistics of back-to-backs and national television showcases. That’s all fine and noteworthy when it comes to buying tickets, but for the diehards who’ll watch every game anyway, it’s little more than a reminder for what fun storylines await.

So let’s remind.

Here are six anticipatory Suns games that feature a variety of highlights, from refreshed rivalries, great Xs and Os showdowns and matchups pumped up by backstories.

(AP Photo/Phil Long, File)

vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Oct. 24)

There’s nothing like a Lakers-Suns rivalry injected with star power on both sides. Phoenix and first overall pick Deandre Ayton host Los Angeles four games into the regular season.

It’s a prime opportunity for the Suns to take advantage of the growing pains upon LeBron James’ arrival.

Before James arrived, it was already a fun matchup of young cores. Brandon Knight can attempt to disrupt Lonzo Ball (assuming Ball is fully recovered from offseason meniscus surgery), Josh Jackson can attempt to slow down Brandon Ingram, while Devin Booker and James can go back and forth. Plus an Ayton-JaVale McGee matchup promises to be entertaining, at least.

The real question is: Will Suns fans be able to fill out their own arena or will the LeBron factor be felt to an even greater affect?

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

at Milwaukee Bucks (Nov. 23)

There are a couple layers to consider here.

Firstly, Bucks point guard Eric Bledsoe will be a year out from his salon-induced departure from Phoenix. He’s coming off a playoff run where all the troubling inconsistencies of his play with a bad team like the Suns continued to crop up for a decent team like Milwaukee. Bledsoe’s rivalry with Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier began with the former’s challenge on a game-winning shot by the latter that turned into a meme.

Is he a talented but flawed point guard, who can’t find as much success without the ball than with it? Weaved into that, he’ll be playing for first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer, one of the best basketball minds who, by the way, didn’t land with the Suns after both parties expressed interest in one another this summer before Phoenix hired Igor Kokoskov.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

vs. Golden State Warriors (Dec. 31)

So what if DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Warriors?

Watching the Suns go at the best team in the league will be intriguing either way, and learning how first-year Suns coach Igor Kokoskov utilizes his lineups, especially regarding Ayton, against the best small ball team will be fascinating to watch. Does he go big? If so, we get to see Ayton attempt to defend some of the best perimeter players in the league.

Or would Kokoskov rather match up with Golden State and roll with a wingy lineup of Booker, Jackson, Mikal Bridges and T.J. Warren? Can any of those guys flex defensive acumen against that death lineup?

One notable thing about this matchup against the Warriors compared to the Suns’ other three this upcoming year: We know from C.J. McCollum’s podcast that Kevin Durant loves Scottsdale. We also know Scottsdale loves New Year’s Eve. NBA players probably don’t get distracted but … what if a table at Bottled Blonde is waiting?

(AP photos)

at Dallas Mavericks (Jan. 9)

The season opener will tip 2018-19 on a fun note with Ayton and Luka Doncic, who was arguably the other potential top overall pick, facing off on Oct. 17 on national TV. Still, the Jan. 9 matchup, their third of the year, should be the most telling.

It’s in the heart of the season — the teams’ final matchup is the last game of the year on April 9 — but deep enough in where both teams should know who they are. That’s when we get to see which rookie improved the most since the opener.

Dallas, by the way, features All-Star center DeAndre Jordan, who presents a challenge to Ayton unless the rookie is working his jumper into his offense by that point. And from a grander view of both teams, the game features two young cores led by two well-respected offensive minds in Rick Carlisle and Kokoskov.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

vs. New York Knicks (March 6)

There’s no timeline for when Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis will return from an ACL injury, but it’s quite possible the last meeting between the two squads could feature the All-Star squaring off against Ayton.

New York, like Phoenix, is also led by a rookie head coach in David Fizdale.

It’s a reasonable expectation to believe Phoenix should compete in that game if not be a favorite. Of any team that might have more question marks around its point guard situation than the Suns, it’s New York — unless Frank Ntilikina makes a noticeable jump in his second season.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

vs. Utah Jazz (April 3)

People paying attention to the NBA know why Utah just might be the second- or third-best team in the Western Conference heading into 2018-19. The Jazz’s most noticeable loss this offseason was their assistant coach, Kokoskov. By early April, we’ll know how much that changed their identity, but it’s still a good bet that they’ll be fighting for a place in the standings somewhere in the playoff picture on this date.

All four of the Suns’ games against the Jazz come after the New Year, and three of them occur within a three-week span from March 13 to April 3.

It’ll be a chess match between Kokoskov and his friend, Quin Snyder.

And there’s always that Donovan Mitchell-Devin Booker showdown.

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