EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Initial impressions, observations from Phoenix Suns’ 2022-23 schedule
It’s schedule release day! One of the biggest days of the NBA year!
Why are you looking at me like that?! This is a huge occurrence!!!
Jokes aside, there are a few areas of the Phoenix Suns’ 82-game rundown we can spotlight to keep an eye on through the year.
Let’s do just that.
Early litmus test
The Western Conference is going to be a gauntlet this year, so the Suns’ schedule will be particularly brutal over a couple of different stages.
They are going to be able to gauge some of their most notable competition right out of the gates.
Five of Phoenix’s first seven games are against the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves. That run includes: the team that eliminated the Suns from the playoffs (Dallas); the two other juggernauts they should be jostling with for the top seed (Golden State and Los Angeles); the squad that gave them a run for their money in the first round without a healthy Zion Williamson (New Orleans); and the franchise that made the biggest move of the offseason, so far, in acquiring Rudy Gobert (Minnesota).
There’s a lot of basketball intrigue wrapped into all five of those teams, and I cannot wait to get an early peek at them.
How does Dallas’ offense work without Jalen Brunson and evolve with Christian Wood? Is John Wall going to look like Optimus Dime (best nickname in the league) and is Kawhi Leonard going to look like The Claw (meh) for Los Angeles?
Will at least one of Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga or James Wiseman step up to be difference-makers in Golden State? Can Pelicans head coach Willie Green recreate the same magic we saw in the postseason and take it even further with Williamson in the fold? How many ball screens will Chris Paul put Gobert in (*mimics pigeon noises*)? Forty? Sixty?
We really have to wait two more months. Argh.
While that’s a healthy dose of competition from the get-go, Phoenix will be able to spend plenty of time practicing at its own facility and avoid much serious travel in the opening leg of the schedule. This will undoubtedly be the biggest plus the Suns themselves take away from the schedule (if they take anything from it at all).
Twelve of the Suns’ first 19 games are at home and the two lone back-to-backs are at Footprint Center. There are only three road trips across the beginning six weeks. One is Portland and Los Angeles and another is just a solo stop in Utah, leaving a four-game trip as the lone departure of the three that takes them east of Arizona.
The back-to-backs are against below-average competition as well. That is two straight against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 4-5 and then a hosting of the Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz on Nov. 25-26, respectively.
That Blazers-Suns two-game baseball series is followed by a cross-country trip to take on the Philadelphia 76ers two days later, though, and the aforementioned four-game road trip takes Phoenix back west to Minnesota before dipping south for matchups with the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat in Florida.
The Suns will then fly back to Phoenix and take on the defending champion Warriors two days after facing Miami.
Benefits of limited time off
After a two-day Thanksgiving break on Nov. 23-24, Dec. 21-22 is the only gap in the Suns’ schedule that lasts longer than a day without a game until the new year.
For a reference point, February — including the All-Star break — and March have four each.
Sure, it doesn’t sound like a good thing to have a 15-game marathon stretch like this, but it is for these guys.
With how funky the scheduling got in the last two years, teams were forced to go through extended periods without those types of breaks. A handful of Suns players said during the year, however, that they actually like the offday-gameday-offday-gameday-offday-gameday type of repetition because of the rhythm they can develop from that, and they proved it.
The Suns’ 2021-22 schedule had a similar type of pattern through almost all of November — with a few back-to-backs as well — and they won all 14 games before two consecutive days off came at the end of the month. A bundle of 12 fixtures from mid-January to mid-February without any more than one day off in a row resulted in an 11-1 record, while a 6-4 total from 10 games in late December to early January gave the Suns a bit more trouble. Finally, it was an 8-2 mark across 10 games in March with that consistency.
Meaning, if we combine the 46 total games the Suns played across long-term stretches without more than a day off straight, they went 39-7. Pretty good! And remember, nearly all of those games were played without someone key from the rotation. Mikal Bridges and JaVale McGee were the only two Suns to play at least 70 games last year.
Expect this group to find its groove during that timeframe.
A not-so-nice Christmas present
To go back to the gauntlet I mentioned, the unfortunate thing can be when the schedule gods twist in some challenging Eastern Conference foes and send you away from home for most of it.
A Dec. 23 game in Phoenix versus the Memphis Grizzlies kicks off 13 games in 25 days that feature only one dud, the lowly Washington Wizards on Dec. 28, and just three are at Footprint Center.
It includes a trio of tilts with Memphis, plus a pair of Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers meetings. The five other games to round it out are with the Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks, Heat, Warriors and Timberwolves.
This involves two of the most difficult portions of the schedule.
The Christmas game in Denver starts the season-long, six-game road trip through Memphis, Washington D.C., Toronto, New York and Cleveland.
Jan. 10 is the date of a Warriors game in San Francisco that is the first of a back-to-back before a stay in Denver the day after. Then, it’s flying all the way up north to Minnesota and back south to Memphis for two games in four days.