Phoenix Suns 2011-12 schedule released; games compressed, no top East teams visit

The NBA schedule makers did the Phoenix Suns no favors in creating their abbreviated schedule that was released this evening. Then again, such is life when you cram 66 games into four months of action.

The Suns’ slate feature a pair of stretches playing three games in a row, a brutal January road trip and no home games against the East’s top five draws, as the Suns will visit Miami, Chicago, Boston, Orlando and New York but won’t get a visit in return. Phoenix will play a home-and-home against just three East squads: Atlanta, Cleveland and Milwaukee.

The full schedule, which kicks off Dec. 26 against New Orleans, can be found on our Phoenix Suns schedule page.

The most difficult part of the Suns’ schedule will come during the second half of January when they will visit the Spurs, the Bulls, the Knicks, the Celtics and the Mavericks before coming home for a back-to-back against Toronto. After a much needed pair of days off they will play in Portland before hosting the Grizzlies and Mavericks to end the month.

In all 16 of Phoenix’s first 21 games, including seven of its first nine, will come against playoff teams. If that stretch does not bury them, the Suns figure to remain in contention for a playoff spot all season.

The Suns’ back-to-back-to-back stretches will come Feb. 13-15 when they play at Golden State and Denver before coming home to face Atlanta and then March 14-16 when they host Utah, visit the Clippers and then host the Pistons.

Phoenix will play 17 back-to-backs as well as the pair of three games in a row stretches. According to Scorecasting, NBA teams only win 36 percent of their games on a back-to-back night, so you can imagine how most teams will fare on a third night in a row. The Suns did play .500 ball on back-to-backs last year (8-8), though, when they played the second-fewest in the league and a total smaller than the amount in this year’s truncated season.

The boys from Planet Orange will appear 16 times on national TV, including nine times on ESPN or ESPN2, two on TNT and five on NBA TV but none on ABC. The team had originally been scheduled for 13 national broadcasts.

The Suns had been slated to host a nine-game homestand from March 2-21 under the schedule the league originally drew up. Now Phoenix will play 12 of 14 games in the friendly confines from Feb. 19-March 18, including the first six and 10 of the first 11 in US Airways Center.

Then the Suns will hit the road for 12 of 15, a stretch that will include a pair of four-game trips and a three-gamer, before finishing up at home for five of their final six.

Typically there is little differentiation between the schedules of two teams in the same conference, with every squad slated for two games against the opposing conference, four against divisional opponents and four more against six other conference opponents and three against the other four teams. One or two fewer games against an elite conference opponent is rarely going to make much of a difference in the playoff picture, and of course every team visits every opponent.

As Ryan Weisert warned, however, some fans would miss out on the best the opposing conference has to offer this season, and wouldn’t you know it that team ended up being the Suns. Phoenix is the only team in the league that will miss out on LeBron/Wade, D-Rose, the Celtics’ Big Four, Superman (if he sticks with the Magic) and Amare/Carmelo.

By contrast, as Paul Coro noted, the Warriors and Thunder each host all five squads.

You can look at this two ways from a competitive advantage perspective. Out of those five opponents the Suns beat just Boston at home last season, so perhaps playing them on the road (where they will likely lose anyway) and getting easier teams at home will help them record-wise.

By contrast, the Suns face Philly, New Jersey, Toronto, Charlotte, Washington and Detroit at home along with their home-and-home partners, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Atlanta. If not for the fact that two of those end their three in a row stretches, there’s not a game in that bunch the Suns shouldn’t be favored in. Last year’s No. 8 seed Indiana is the other East squad that won’t visit the Valley, making the Hawks and the Sixers the only 2010-11 East playoff teams scheduled to make the trip to Phoenix.

Of course, it’s a shame for the fans who will be deprived of watching LeBron James play live and Amare Stoudemire return to Phoenix again, as well as for the ticket resale market that will now have to rely more heavily on those Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks games.

Speaking of those conference tilts, the six opponents Phoenix will play four times are the Lakers, the Clippers (who they will play three times in March alone), the Spurs (who they get three times in the season’s final 30 days) the Mavericks, the Rockets and the Hornets, so no breaks there. They play the rest of the West three times each, with the extra game coming at home against the Warriors, Blazers, Grizzlies and Timberwolves.

So the Suns get screwed from a marketing perspective by missing the elite’s East at home, but could be better off in terms of wins and losses. On the other hand, the teams they face four times should all be great draws, but not so kind to their record.

As for the crazy amount of back-to-backs, Raptors Republic’s Tom Liston said it best on Twitter: “Dear local team fans/blog: every team’s schedule is insane. We know. What part of 66 games in a compressed timeline did you not get?”

ValleyoftheSuns contest winner picked with schedule released

Congratulations to Scottsdale resident Jaziel Salgado for winning our ValleyoftheSuns lockout contest by predicting that the Suns’ first home game would come on Dec. 28, just two away from the correct date.

Salgado will receive two free tickets to the Suns’ season opener against the Hornets, courtesy of StubHub, as well as a ValleyoftheSuns T-shirt, courtesy of the custom shirts company ooShirts.

We had a fairly wide range of guesses, and it’s definitely impressive for somebody to be so close considering all the uncertainty the lockout provided.

And 1

Suns owner Robert Sarver on the lack of elite East teams on the Suns’ home schedule, as quoted by The Republic: “I was disappointed for our fans. When the preliminary schedule came out, I asked the league to reconsider and they didn’t. You’ve got to factor in all the arenas and timelines, and they weren’t able to move dates around.” The Republic reported that 11 of the 14 other West teams play at least three of the top five East draws at home. …

David Stern wrote a letter to fans inviting them back to NBA arenas. “Thank you for being an NBA fan,” Stern concludes. “I hope you enjoy the season, which promises to be a most exciting one.”

It will be interesting to see how quickly fans forget about the lockout amid what does indeed promise to be an exciting campaign. …

The Suns sent out an email advertising the opener as a battle between Steve Nash and Chris Paul, but the way the rumor mill is churning nobody should be surprised if Nash is the only elite point guard to make it to this matchup.

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