2009-10 Suns: The schedule is out

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Now that the Suns’ 2009-2010 schedule has been released, Suns fans and players alike can begin marking their calendars for that certain grudge match, homecoming game, or rivalry game that they so desperately yearn for.

Last season Suns fans saw how crucial every single game can be.  With that in mind, it is clear the Suns will certainly have their fair share of obstacles to overcome in route to the 2009-2010 playoffs.

The Suns should be able to start the season with a bang as they open the season on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 28. The Suns then travel home for their Oct. 30 home-opener versus the Golden State Warriors.

After a favorable early schedule, the Suns will be tested during an early November road trip when they face off against Dwyane Wade and the Heat, followed by matchups with Eastern Conference powerhouses Orlando and Boston. Suns fans will know very early if the Suns can hang with the big boys.

The month of November as a whole should be challenging for the Suns, as nine of their 15 games are against 2009 playoff teams, including a Nov. 12 matchup at the Los Angeles Lakers on ESPN.

Although November looks tough, December will be by far the most taxing month for Phoenix.  The first two days of December are reunion games for the Suns. Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver will once again have to painfully sit and watch the pregame love-fest between the Suns players and the Mike D’Antoni coaching staff when the Suns travel to New York on Dec. 1. After the D’Antoni reunion the Suns will see how Shaq looks in a Cavs uniform when they play at Cleveland on Dec. 2.

Following the reunion games, the Suns have a ridiculously brutal 14-game stretch, probably the toughest stretch in the NBA, which includes Shaq’s return to Phoenix.

Because of the ongoing criticism that Kerr and Sarver face in the basketball world, I would expect nothing but cheers for the Diesel when his name is announced at US Airways Center.

After they host the Cavs, the Suns will face the Lakers, Mavericks, Magic on ESPN, Nuggets, Spurs, Trail Blazers on TNT, Cavaliers on NBA TV, Lakers, and Celtics.  Any one of these teams, outside of maybe the Blazers, have a legitimate chance to win the NBA Finals next season. Of the teams the Suns play in the month of December, three finished 60+ wins last season and five finished with 50+ wins.

Hopefully the Suns can give fans a better Christmas present than last year as they take on the Los Angeles Clippers on ESPN. Hopefully we don’t see Roger Mason corner three ball part deux.

As always, the Suns should have no problem pasting 130 on average teams.  But the playoff-like month of December will bring out the Suns’ true colors and determine if they can compete in the playoffs.

January brings a bit of relief for the Suns, as only seven of their 16 games come against 2009 playoff teams.  The Suns’ Jan. 28 TNT matchup against the Mavs at US Airways Center is certainly a game to put on your calendar.  Not only do the Suns face one of their rivals, Suns fans get to see Shawn Marion in a Mavericks uniform, which is still hard to fathom.

The Suns’ first half of the season should have a lot of ups and downs as they have some ridiculously difficult stretches and some fairly easy stretches. But if the Suns want to contend in the West they are going to have to battle through difficult months like December and take care of business against the teams they need to beat.

After the All-Star break the Suns open up with Memphis, Dallas, and Atlanta and end February with an ABC day game at San Antonio.

March seems to be a “take care of business” month for the Suns. The Suns need to handle the teams they should beat if they want to take over a solid seed in the Western Conference playoffs.  Outside of the Lakers, Nuggets, Jazz, Hornets, and Trail Blazers at home, the Suns have an extremely easy month of March.  Aside from the aforementioned games, the Suns face only one 2009 playoff team, the Chicago Bulls. The Suns have games against the Clippers, Pacers, T-Wolves (twice), Warriors, Knicks (D’Antoni return to Phoenix) and Nets.

As long as the Suns can keep their heads above water after months like November and December, they should have a respectable record after March.

Assuming there is as much parity in the Western Conference as expected, the final seven games should be crucial for the Suns playoff hopes. On April 2 the Suns travel to Detroit to take on the new-look Pistons and then head to Milwaukee on April 3 to take on Michael Redd and the Bucks.  Four of the next five games will surely test the Suns’ will to be a playoff team as they will face off with the Spurs at home, the Thunder in OKC, the Rockets at home, Denver at home, and then the Jazz in Utah to end the year.

Coming off an extremely disappointing season, the Suns have a lot to prove.  Nash wants to prove he deserves $11 million a year, Amare wants to prove he deserves max money, Gentry wants to prove he can be a successful head coach in this league, and Steve Kerr wants to prove that he is not the worst GM in basketball.

It will be tough for the Suns to prove all of these things with so much talent in the Western Conference and arguably the toughest month-long stretch in the NBA. The good thing is that the Suns now have almost three months to mentally and physically prepare for those challenging road trips and home stands.

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