Seven Key Stretches in Suns' Schedule Worth Noting

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by Matt Petersen

When Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek talks goals with his team, he prefers to take the schedule by "small groups of games at a time."

The 2014-15 slate should play into that habit well. Last season the longest road trip and homstand were both five games each. This year, PHoenix's longest road swing is a six-game marathon, followed later by a whopping eight-game stay at US Airways Center.

With Hornacek's few-games-at-a-time approach in mind, here are the groups of games that leap off the schedule at first glance:

Oct. 29 - Nov. 14

Home games: 7

Road games: 2

Back-to-backs: 3 (counting Clippers game on Nov. 15)

Highlights: Very Suns-aware start to the season. With the rival Lakers (opening night) and Spurs (Halloween) tipping off the season, Phoenicians have a reason to get excited right away.

From the Suns' point of view, the first 10 games of the season are both good (seven at home, including a five-game homestand) and challenging (first seven games are against Western Conference opponents). Still, Phoenix couldn't ask for a better setting than home to deal with that latter challenge. The Suns went 26-15 at US Airways Center last season and lost back-to-back home games just twice all year.

Nov. 15 - Nov. 28

Home games: 1

Road games: 7

Back-to-backs: 1

Highlights: Road back-to-backs are never fun, and Phoenix had 11 of them last year (not counting home/road back-to-backs), including some road swings that consisted entirely of back-to-backs with one day's rest in between. That number is trimmed to eight this year, and the benefit is highly visible in this stretch's early six-game-in-11-days swing out East.

Phoenix will have to work to establish a good tone at  L.A. (Clippers) before barnstorming all over the Eastern Conference (Boston, Detroit, Philly, Indiana, Toronto). 

Included in this section is the home-and-home with Denver, the kind of scenario where a 2-0 sweep can vault you into a feel-good win streak, an 0-2 skunk leaves you glad to see the end of the other team, and a 1-1 tie leaves everyone feeling like they worked a lot for a wash.

Dec. 14 - Jan. 11

Home games: 4

Road games: 12

Back-to-backs: 4

Highlights: The Suns won't take their schedule in chunks this big, but it's hard for the rest of us to ignore such a road-heavy holiday season. Indeed, Phoenix will surface for breath just long enough for a Dec. 23 home game against the Mavs before heading right back out to Sacramento and another four-game swing, followed by two home matches and another four-game plane ride.

Two thirds of the away games are against Western Conference opponents. On the flip side: only half of the 16 total games in this stretch are against teams that made the playoffs last year.

Jan. 13 - Jan. 30

Home Games: 8

Away Games: 0

Back-to-backs: 0

Highlights: Consider this a huge apology for the holiday season away from home. Only eight games in 18 days? No back-to-backs? All at home?

As with any stretch, however, there is a trade-off. The last five games are against postseason teams from a year ago, and one of the other three now has LeBron James (Cleveland).

Feb. 11 - Feb. 19

Home games: 0

Road games: 0

Back-to-backs: 0

Highlights: Ideally, someone from the Suns will be playing during the All-Star break. Even if that happens, the league has ensured even the high-demand All-Stars will have plenty of time to rest up for the final playoff push.

This is especially important for players like Goran Dragic, who have produce at a high level both for their NBA franchises and their respective national teams. Dragic will again be coming off international play after leading Slovenia in the FIBA World Cup in September. He did the same at EuroBasket last summer. 

Consider this prolonged break a blessing for the Suns' best producers this season.

March 9 - March 29

Home games: 9

Road games: 1

Back-to-backs: 2 (Counting Portland on 30th)

Highlights: This span follows a fairly road-heavy slate immediately after the All-Star break (seven of 10 away from home).

No game is ever a gimme, but March does present an opportunity. Of these 10 games, only two of them are against top-four playoff seeds from a year ago (Houston, Oklahoma City). Five are against non-playoff teams. Only two, however, are Eastern Conference opponents.

March 30 - April 14

Home games: 2

Road games: 6

Back-to-backs: 1

Highlights: The end of the season will make Phoenix earn a postseason berth if they're in the hunt, be it for a certain seed or the postseason in general. Six of the eight opponents earned playoff stripes last year, and only one of the eight is an Eastern team (Atlanta). The last two tilts of the season: a road clash at San Antonio and the season finale at home versus the Clippers.

Four of these eight games will be on national television, five of the last nine if you include March 29 vs. OKC. The opponents on that stage: Oklahoma City, Portland, Golden State, Dallas, Los Angeles (Clippers).