J-Rich and Co. will be done with the Heat by Christmas.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
The old axiom says, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Fortunately for the Suns, their finish should be much less turbulent than their start.
After a summer of immense changes to the roster, as well as within the front office, one could expect the Suns to struggle a bit out of the gate. Despite a Western Conference Finals run that put them within two games of the Finals, it’s more difficult than one would think to incorporate five new players into their rotation.
What’s made it more challenging has been the team’s schedule in the first 20 games. It’s been atypically difficult, especially in comparison to other teams.
When comparing the Suns’ early-season schedule to rivals such as the Lakers and Spurs, one can see the disparity first-hand. Here are some interesting tidbits.
Of the Suns first 20 games, 12 of them have been on the road thus far. Both the Lakers and Spurs have played only nine games on the road.
In those 20 games, the Suns have played six back-to-back sets of games. The Spurs have only played three back-to-back sets, while the Lakers have had only two sets of back-to-backs.
In terms of the strength of the opponent they’ve all been facing, the Suns have had the decks stacked against them there, as well. When you add up the records of all the teams the Suns have faced thus far, the Suns’ opponents are a combined 258-235.
That’s a winning percentage of .523. The winning percentage of the Spurs’ opponents is .443, while the Lakers opponents possess a lowly .412 percentage.
Just so Spurs fans and Lakers fans don’t believe that this is a personal affront to their teams, let’s take a look at a random team like the Nuggets to see how their schedule stacks up.
Through 20 games, the Nuggets have also only played nine games on the road, three less than the Suns.
Denver has played four back-to-back sets of games, as opposed to the Suns, who have played in six back-to-back sets of games.
While the Suns’ opponents have won 258 games, the Nuggets’ opponents have won 235. By taking all of these stats into consideration, a pattern becomes evident.
The beginning of the Suns’ season is uniquely difficult. But that isn’t always a detriment, if you look at the big picture.
“I don’t mind having a tougher schedule earlier in the season,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “You can catch tough teams early and when they’re really trying to get everything together. The other thing is you get through playing those guys and you don’t have to play them anymore.”
The good news is that by January 5, the Suns will have already finished playing the Heat and will have already played the Lakers three times.
“We’re all going to play the same teams, so you can talk about the schedule, but you have to just play,” Gentry said. “I do think there are some scheduling losses that you have when you have to play your fourth game in five nights and all of a sudden you have to go from Indiana to Charlotte. Now that’s a factor, but other than that, the teams you’re playing are the teams you’re playing.”
Luckily for the Suns, after Christmas their schedule will begin to become a little less rigorous.