The Phoenix Suns begin an interesting stretch of the season as they face off against the Atlanta Hawks tonight. The Suns next 19 games include 13 away from Talking Stick Resort Arena.
There’s no place quite like home, is there? The comfort of your own bed. The late night blind walk to your bathroom in the dark. That home cookin’, and the Phoenix Suns have had the luxury of eating several meals at Talking Stick Resort Arena thus far.
The lifestyle of professional athletes, especially those in the NBA, is one that lacks rhythm. Players have to get their focus and adrenaline up for games that end around 10:00 p.m. Following the game, there are reporters, showers, and a trip to the airport. There are late night trips to the opposite coast. There are back-to-backs.
In short, it is a sport that demands rhythm but does not provide a rhythmic lifestyle. When players have a home stand, it is appreciated and valued.
The Phoenix Suns have been quite lucky to begin the 2019-20 campaign. They currently lead the league with 23 games played at home. They have not had to jump flights to the East coast often. They’ve had the luxury of comfort.
Unfortunately, they have not taken full advantage of so many home appearances, posting a 9-14 record at home thus far. The team had an early six-game home stand in November, but went 3-3. The chance to capitalize on being home has come and gone.
That all changes beginning tonight with their match up against the Atlanta Hawks. The Suns, who have played a league low 16 games on the road, start a stretch that will challenge them, both mentally and physically. But with challenge comes opportunity.
The next 41 days will allow the team a chance to grow together. The players won’t go home at the end of the night. They’ll board a plane, together. They’ll check into the hotel at 3:00 a.m., together. They’ll take the bus, have meals, and practice. Together.
Road trips bring with them the opportunity to bond and to grow as a team. The next 19 games include four separate such road trips, with a one game stopover in Los Angeles in between home games. The Suns may currently be 7-9 on the road, but an opening is there to become a road warrior team. More importantly, they can grow together and gain an instinctive on-the-court rhythm.
They begin this road trip on a two-game winning streak, following victories over Orlando and Charlotte.
Their next two games are against the cellar dwellers of the Eastern Conference. The Atlanta game may not feature Trae Young due to a hamstring injury, and the Knicks continue to struggle with their identity. The Suns must strike while the iron is hot and beat who they should beat.
We are just shy of the halfway point of the season. The Suns have 43 games left, 25 of which are on the road. The longest road trip of the year, a six-gamer from March 23 to April 1, is still on the horizon. The upcoming stint of games will be telling. Will we as fans be watching the NCAA Tournament, scouting the team’s next lottery pick or watching the St. Patrick’s Day game between Memphis and OKC as the Suns jockey for playoff positioning.
The road ahead will be full of challenges, bumps, and bruises. Atlanta to New York to Boston. San Antonio to Memphis to Dallas. Milwaukee to Brooklyn to Detroit. Toronto to Chicago to Utah. When they complete their game against the Jazz on February 24, they will have completed 70% of the season. The trade deadline will have passed. The All Star Game will have come and gone (#VoteBooker). The playoffs will be less than two months away.
Will the Suns come home contenders for a playoff spot? Or will the road ahead reveal that they are pretenders?
Only the road knows.