It’s that time of the year again: the official schedule for the NBA season has been released, and it's time to dissect which games we are the most excited about.
The Suns are in the always anxiety-riddled position of trying to bust out of the league’s cellar, which makes it hard to project what the most meaningful games of the year will be. Maybe they’ll pull off a monster upset by blowing out a top team, or maybe there will be a run of clockwork play that shows fans just how good things can be in a few years. Perhaps one of their up-and-coming prospects will knock down a game-winner.
It’s impossible to say if, let alone when those things will happen.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few storylines we can pick out ahead of time. Without further ado, here are the top ten games to be excited about next season.
Important note: I know I’ve framed this as the top ten games, but some entries include multiple games. It comes out to 22 (including honorable mentions). Yes, that is more than a quarter of the Phoenix's games, but I get to make up the rules here.
December 31st versus Utah Jazz
The only major holidays that will see the Suns playing this season are Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
The real excitement of the latter, however, is that the Suns won’t be playing on New Year’s Day, meaning they will have the opportunity to partake in National Hangover Day, just like the rest of us (save for the under-21 portion of the roster).
Will the team party in Salt Lake City or Los Angeles (where they will be playing the Clippers on January 2nd)? Perhaps they will get on a plane immediately after the game and celebrate in the sky?
This will also be the first time in five years that the Suns won't be spending New Year's Even in Oklahoma City, meaning this game will also mark the end of an era.
February 3rd and/or March 15th and/or Aprill 11th versus Sacramento Kings
Marquese Chriss was acquired in a draft night trade that ended up sending Georgios Papagiannis to the Kings. While Phoenix will host Sacramento on opening night, don’t expect either rookie to get much playing time in that showdown, if any.
With that in mind, one of these three games just may give us that Chriss/Papagiannis showdown we’re all craving. If one team quickly asserts itself as the winner of the draft night trade, there is no better way to rub it in the loser’s face than by handing out an on-court drubbing.
There is also no better way to save face than to go out and beat the team that got the better of you in a trade.
January 26th and January 28th against Denver Nuggets
The Suns will play in Denver and then host the Nuggets two days later. There isn’t much to be excited about with those matchups, but it’s a certain kind of fun when teams play back-to-back games against each other. It’s not roller coaster fun; it’s more like seeing a rainbow. “Hmm. Neat.”
The Top Ten
10. January 8th versus the Cleveland Cavaliers
There isn’t much to this game regarding matchup potential, but hosting the reigning champions is always a good time. The arena will fill out, fans will get to see some amazing players, and there will be plenty of hemming and hawing every time the Suns make a good play. “See? We can play with the champs.” Never mind the final score - the real fans know that it is the little things that count when times are tough.
9. November 9th versus Detroit Pistons
Jon Leuer was a hidden gem for the Suns last season, and losing him was undoubtedly disappointing. Not in a way that permanently rocked Phoenix, but in a way that would make my mother (and mothers of diehards everywhere) go “Aw, shoot. I liked him.” He’s that kind of player; the kind of good that is only appreciated by diehards and those novice enough that they can’t be biased towards the popular opinions of the league.
Many people only watch the Suns, and Leuer was good for the Suns. This game will bring a small tinge of nostalgia for them. The Marcus Morris factor is also a nice addition to this, for very different reasons.
8. March 23rd at Brooklyn Nets
Back in the final days of 1996, the Phoenix Suns traded for a future Hall of Famer named Jason Kidd. Four years later, he was traded to the Nets (and wasn’t happy about it). In 2013 he was hired by the Nets to become their head coach before being traded to the Bucks one year later. March 23rd is his birthday, and the Suns will be playing the Nets. I don’t know how all of these things are tied together, but I refuse to let this coincidence pass me by.
7. November 21st at Washington Wizards
The Return of Dudley. There isn’t anything to suggest the separation of Jared Dudley, and the Wizards was marred by hard feelings and angry conversations, but you’re allowed to imagine those disputes if it will make this comeback game feel like a rivalry. Remember what I wrote about Jon Leuer in the honorable mentions? That is what this game will be like for Wizards moms. The Markieff Morris factor adds a bonus to this game as well.
6. November 19th or December 23rd against Philadelphia 76ers
Granted, the intrigue of this game is attributed to a hypothetical situation, but that’s why I’ve knocked it down to the lower half of this list. Rumors have popped up here and there involving a Brandon Knight trade. Rumors have also been around for some time about the Sixers looking to get rid of one of their young centers in exchange for a point guard. There’s a chance that the two teams realize their common interests and make something happen, in which case one of these two games could become a fun revenge game for Knight and whoever the Sixers acquire him for.
5. October 26th versus Sacramento Kings
The opening game of the season is always given a little bit of extra gravitas, whether subconsciously or in full awareness. Given that the Kings are the team that the Suns are trying to step over to move up to third place in the Pacific Division, there will be even more irrational conclusions to jump to for this season opener.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Marquese Chriss or Georgios Papagiannis plays much, if at all. That player rivalry probably doesn’t seem like it should mean very much, but I guarantee you two things: Firstly, both of those players know exactly who they were traded for. Second-of-ly, projecting emotions onto players is where some of the best narratives are bred from. Do yourself a favor and get excited for the most intense player rivalry since Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins (who probably don’t hate each other either).
4. December 6th at Utah Jazz
Speaking of draft night, it was reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein that the Suns attempted to trade Eric Bledsoe and a pick to the Jazz for Gordon Hayward. The chances that Bledsoe will remember that report are somewhere between 100 percent and 100 percent. There’s a small chance he could be traded before December 6th, but the table has been set for a revenge game.
3. October 28th – 31st at Oklahoma City Thunder, versus Golden State Warriors, at Los Angeles Clippers
After opening night, the Suns will play three games in four days against some of the best teams in the Western Conference, excluding only the San Antonio Spurs.
The expectation is that Phoenix will lose every game, which means that even a single win will lead to a downtown parade. Remember, games at the beginning of the season always seem like they mean everything. In reality, it is just three games against teams Phoenix were guaranteed to be playing at some point in the season. In spirit, it is so much more.
2. November 6th, December 9th, February 15th, and March 9th against the Los Angeles Lakers
If there is one way to prove that you are not the worst team in your conference, it is by beating the worst team in your conference.
That is what both the Suns and the Lakers will be looking do this season, as expectations are nonexistent for both teams. Both teams are hoping to remind the rest of the league that they exist, but if both teams falter, it will be nice to be able to say “Hey, at least we beat those other guys”.
1. December 13th versus New York Knicks
The Return of Jeff Hornacek. Of course, everybody wishes this were the opening night match-up, but it is still early enough in the season that neither team’s stature will be set in stone.
Hornacek had a moment of glory when fans in Phoenix thought he might be the man to save the organization. Then it turned out he was not that guy. Then it turned out he was really not that guy. A win for the Suns could make for a tough night of sleep.