These guys won’t admit it, but they could use a break.
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

The funny thing about history is that it always comes down to the bottom line. When one looks back at a basketball season, they head right for the win-loss column and make a judgment about a team’s total body of work.

There’s a sort of inherent assumption that everyone was on equal footing along the way and that every team endured the same trials and tribulations; at least the same schedule. And that’s why history isn’t always accurate.

Take a look at the Suns this year. If you just look at the standings, you’ll see that they’re tied for the third-best record in the Western Conference and one of the early surprises of the NBA season.

But you don’t realize how surprising they really are into you take their schedule into consideration. Thus far, they’ve played more road games (15) than any team in the league and they’ve already played five sets of back-to-game games.

Is that normal? Well, let’s test that against a team that’s geographically close to them and in the same division. Let’s take the division and conference-leading Lakers as our test team.

The Suns are currently 15-7 with an 8-7 record on the road and a perfect record at home (7-0), whereas the Lakers are 17-3 with a 14-2 record at home. The Lakers have played only four games outside of STAPLES Center this season.

That’s right. Four games.

On top of that, they’ve only played three sets of back-to-backs. They squared off with the Rockets after they faced the Thunder and the Nets after the Warriors.

They also were blown out by Denver a night after beating the Suns. But that’s it.

Now compare that to the Suns, who faced the Magic after the Heat, the Lakers after the Hornets and the Cavs after the Knicks – which, incidentally – was also the finale of a four-game road trip.

In addition to that four-game road trip, Phoenix had a five-game road trip that concluded and saw the Suns head home for a game against the Hornets. After defeating New Orleans, the Suns promptly flew out after the game so they could go play the Lakers in L.A. the next night.

When asked if he had ever seen a schedule like this in five-year NBA career, Suns center Channing Frye replied definitively, “Nope.”

“It was either you were out on the road for two weeks for a long road trip or you were back for a week or two a home,” Frye said. “But never road (game), road, road, home; then road, road, road, road, road, home.”

Back-to-back games are seen as the most challenging aspect of an NBA schedule. But what is giving the Suns difficulty is who they’re facing on the second half of those back-to-backs.

To a man, every player in the NBA would prefer to play the tougher of the two teams on the first night of a back-to-back. But the Suns haven’t been so fortunate.

Just this season it has been the Lakers (twice), Orlando, Cleveland and Philadelphia. Their next back-to-back will be against the Nuggets. Not only were all of those teams I just mentioned in the playoffs last season, but four of the five were the top four teams in the league.

So does it seem like a coincidence that the Lakers are getting an easier game on the second half of back-to-backs? Let’s see.

The teams that the Suns play on back-to-backs this season totaled an 815-661 record. If those teams were to represent one NBA team, it would hold a .552 winning percentage.

The teams that the Lakers play accumulated a 605-871 record. That comes out to .410 winning percentage.

A .552 team in last season’s playoff race would most closely resemble last season’s Hawks, who finished with a 47-35 record and a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. A .410 team would represent somewhere between a Michael Redd-less and Brandon Jennings-less Bucks team that missed the playoffs and a Knicks team that went 32-50.

Who would you rather play?

The reason back-to-backs are tough is because a team will expend a great deal of energy on that first night. It’s even more difficult for the Suns because they rely much more on pushing the tempo and being in better condition than opposing teams.

To put it plainly, they expend more energy than most teams to win.

The key to back-to-backs, according to Gentry, is to play them all either at home or on the road. Splitting them up is when they get tricky.

“You’re almost better off playing two away games on the road then you are playing at home and then getting on a plane and then flying out that night,” Gentry said.

When examining the Lakers’ schedule, you’ll see that they have 18 back-to-backs, just like everyone else in the league. But a closer look shows that 12 of those back-to-backs are games in which they are on the road.

The Suns only have seven sets of back-to-backs where that is the case. Six times the Suns play at home before flying out right after the game for a game the next night on the road.

In all fairness, the Lakers do that five times as well. But here’s the clincher.

Four other times the Suns play on the road on the first night before flying back to Phoenix to host an opposing team the next night. The Lakers do that only once.

Another disadvantage the Suns face are those late 8:30 p.m. starts. The Suns have 10 of those this season.

Guess how many the Lakers have. That’s right, 0.

Now that late start may not seem like a big deal, but over the course of the season, those late nights add up. And before a trip, that extra time can be the difference between a late night, and a really late night.

For example, take this Friday. After the Suns host the Magic at 8:30 p.m., they’ll fly out for their game in Denver the next night.

Gentry, who is the last person to complain, finally admitted this much.

“Anytime you go to Denver from anywhere it’s going to be a long trip,” he said. “It’s a long drive from the airport. It’s an 8:30 game, so we’re looking at getting into Denver at 3-3:30 in the morning.

“Obviously, playing at home and then getting on a plane for a game the next night is a tough situation. But everybody does it, and like I said, we’re not making excuses, but it’s just factual. We just have to deal with it.”

But at least relief at home is coming in the near future. As one member of the press pointed out to Gentry, six of the Suns’ next eight games are at home.

“And six easy games it is, if I can recall,” Gentry joked. “There’s Orlando, and I think there’s Boston, uh, San Antonio, Cleveland and some other small team… Oh yeah, the Lakers. It should be an easy little home stand.”

So relax Suns fans. Not only are the Suns already a surprise but they’ve become one despite already playing through the most brutal part of their schedule.

Easier days will surely follow. They just won’t be until 2010.

  • LOVE MY SUNS

    I belive it when I see it. I know the Suns don’t usually fair during back-to-backgames, but this is kind of ridiculous. I belive this team has some of the best young talent and it is being tested. I know the Suns will survive because they got great fans who truly believe they will come out on top. Keep your heads up Suns. I KNOW it will all be worth it!

  • Jill Cross

    I’m from Steve Nash’s hometown but love to watch ALL these wonderful men play basketball “their way”, win or lose. Their creativity, concern for one another, and graciousness towards other teams on the court makes Suns supporters proud.

    Has the NBA Administration been asked to be accountable for this kind of prejudicial scheduling? If so, how? Is there someone outraged fans should be mailing to ensure this will not happen to any team again.

    Thanks for the insightful facts!

  • javid

    i think the lakers played a bac to bac, it was suns thursday then denver in denver the friday when they got beatten by 30

  • Ruth Vallecillo

    Good Clean Facts!! Im glad someone pointed that out.

  • eastcoastsun

    The NBA is totally biased toward the Lakers. This ridiculous schedule is intended to guarantee the Lakers with the best possible chance of getting the best record and highest seed available.

  • Benjamin De Mers

    18 wins and 13 losses at the end of December. Then the schedule gets a bit easier. Playoffs for sure. Homestand? No. Seeding? Seven or eight. Injuries a factor for seeding? Absoultely, look for at least two to three more extended periods without at least one star. First round exit? Maybe. I say maybe because this team will most assuredly be tested more than any other team in the league come playoffs and may just pull off a first round series. This will be only if they get the 7 seed and have to play the 2. If they get 8th seed they are out in one but not in 4 games. They will get ousted in 6. Tough out for the 1 but out nonetheless.

    Final year for Suns chance is next year. Steve will be too old, Amare will be good but out of his prime, same with Richardson. Dragic will never be great. Need to add bulk with finesse to Lopez and Frye. Need to add a backup to Leandro who can be consistent just in case his bad luck of injuries continues to provide us with one or two multiple week absences per season. Need a defensive stopper who can YELL at the team when needed, like Bell used to.

    Hey did y’all see Diaw’s scoring average this year? Gettin’ ‘er done. If we had not treated him so badly Diaw would be a PERFECT addition to this team. So would Kurt Thomas.

    As it stands, Suns will do better this year than last but next year is the year this team matures and has a legit shot with some of the additions talked about above.

    All the same, I am a Suns fan and am looking forward to watching a much more entertaining team on the court who will win 50+ games and get into the playoffs again. Not bad because most everyone figured the Suns 5th or 6th in the Pacific Conference with a losing record.

    They will be MUCH better than that but not championship. Nah, not this team. Too small, no defense and not enough finesse to be a run and gun champ. Next year, add a defensive stopper get Lopez and Frye to be more like Pau Gasol (show ‘em tapes till they puke and have them lifting weights and taking weight gain powder) and add another big body up front (big forward or center does not matter as long as they are young enough to run but mature enough to understand defensive stops. Shot blocker would be great). Get more variety in offensive sets. Kick-outs to three pointers and everyone running when they do not have the ball (like the Spurs do). Don’t give me this tired stuff. You are what you practice to be and what you decide your team is going to be. Develop a team demeanor or style. The last two seasons have seen a complete lack of team chemistry, demeanor and style. Ad hoc can only get you so far and that is what has proven out. Get the swagger back instead of tip-toeing into everyone’s building as if we are lucky to be there. NO we are scheduled to be there and we need to show up and kick some butt.

    GO SUNS!

    Benjamin De Mers

  • http://None Mark schlesinger

    Why has the NBA created this scheduling inequity, why is not more equitable?

  • DA STRATEGIZT!

    I believe the Suns are in the top 10 in the NBA, but still not in the elite 5(Lakers, Boston, Orlando, Cleveland, Denver) where they should be to contend for that Championship ring/trophy! If you are a true fan of the game of Basketball and not just a Suns die-hard fan you should have already known this… Now everything that’s been said in opinion is true plus the facts, so how do the PHX Suns become elite? It’s simple to be the best you have to beat the best no excuses at all times attitude! I hope Steve Nash, Stat, Grant Hill, Steve Kerr, Alvin Gentry all get a glimpse of this Post! 1.)Facts: The PHX Suns are a small team compared to the elite 1a.)Suck it up and play smarter and quicker than the so called athletic big men for each 48 min game attack! and on Defense focus on the opponents Superstar players completely! most teams have only 1 or 2 at worst 3 Be a champion and “D-Up” take there offensive rhythm away!i.e. look at Houston take down the Lakers they almost did it 2wice! 2.)Facts: The PHX Suns won’t be elite until they play some hard nosed in your face defense! 2a.) Defense wins championships there’s no way around it! If you have a team that is as athletic and as on point in execution on offense as the Suns can be and have shown there is no excuse for the same determination and will on the Defensive end none what so ever! My philosophy #1 on Offense #1 on Defense = The best team “Champions” anything else is an excuse for failure! Don’t give me those Alvin Gentry interviews about ranking in the top 15 in Defense will be good enough for the #1 Offensive team in the league! That is B.S. and an excuse for failure welcome to another year with no Championship Suns fans! 3.)Facts: There is only 1 pedigree to success and being an NBA champion! Hard nosed DEFENSE and execution on OFFENSE holds true yesterday, today, and forever! 3a.)On offense: The PHX Suns need to get more ball movement, slashes, cuts, knock down the 3-ball and post-up Amare Suns execution style basketball in the halfcourt offense!I believe the Suns need to start running and gunning again in the fullcourt offense to put teams on their heels early! Grant Hill needs to step-up so does Channing frye! 3a.)On Defense: The PHX Suns will need to use their knowledge for the game and instincts as individuals, but as a team Coaching staff must create a gameplan to take down each opponents Superstars and make the role-players beat you each 48 min game. You see if 2 or 3 Superstars get it going that could hurt you anywhere from 50-80 points but let’s say only 1 goes for 50 that would mean the opponents’ role players still would have to score another 50-60 points to even contend with the #1 scoring Offense! In conclusion my personal in-depth gameplan for Friday nights game at Home against the visiting Orlando Magic: On offense: Coach Alvin Gentry mentioned some new sets are being placed to create more space in the half-court game now that teams are switching the Big-Man on Nash in the pick&roll game. Interested to see these new sets in execution and also I would like to see Grant Hill handle the ball more because he’s a cerebral player and so good at creating fouls on the opponent. I would also like to see Jason Richardson on some pick&roll situations with Stat, being that he’s a lethal offensive player when he’s driving towards the basket to create havoc on the Defensive end when he’s(Richarson, Hill, and Stoudemire are) not posting-up creating fouls as well. I also want to emphasize you’re at Home against an Elite who blew you out at their house PHX has to come out running & gunning execution-style! Most importantly is this!!! On Defense: Tonight are Defensive focus is geared towards Dwight Howard and Vince Carter! On Dwight Howard tonight we should play him 1on1 with an occasional double-team to ruin his rhythm. If he get’s 50 so be it! (He’ll eventually tire as the game wears on)! On Vince Carter we should make him a passer with a double-team scheme and this is the most important of all! *Run the Magic out of the perimeter 3-point-line into the inside keep close to the shooters at all times!!!* Reason for gameplan: Last time out Howard was not only a scorer & a passer, but he also dictated his will on Defense and around the boards. This time around if PHX let’s him go-off for 50 he’ll eventually tire get into foul-trouble and the Magic as a team will have had a poor shooting night as the Offense should be stagnant all night due to the fact the Suns stayed close to the shooters for 48min! I am a PHX Suns fan, but first and foremost a fan of the game of Basketball thanks for your time! My opinion on The PHX Suns quest to be an elite team in the NBA!!!

  • John Serpe

    Suns turn the tables on the Magic and show them how it feels to play a decent team on a back to back. Nothing outstanding on our Suns part, but a good and much needed win. Could have been alot easier but as usual we chose to grind it out. As I have said before, this team will win some but for the most part were still a second tier team, looking up at the powerhouses. Denver won’t be tired tommorrow.

  • syed

    wow, ok the LAKERS have only lost 1 road game this season. They are really good on the road, and this report didnt mention that. The lakers have bigger rival (Celtics, Cavs, Magic, and the nuggets. Suns got killed by the lakers twice now so this is no longer a rivalry!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Khadgars

    I will agree that the Suns schedule thus far has been the most difficult in the NBA, while the Lakers as been one of the easiest.

    How ever, what you fail to mention is the fact that the Lakers in both Jan and March have 11 away games each one of those months, with only 4 homes games in March. The Lakers will have monster road trips coming up, a brutal schedule for most of the remaining season. While at the same time the Suns will play 11 of the next 14 at home.

    I’m not sure what the problem is here, unless you are just trying to tell your self that your record means more than the Lakers, and I would agree with you.

    But whats the point of talking about record in December? All that matters is how you do in the playoffs, and thats something the Suns have yet to prove.

  • Tara

    Typical……

  • Jimmie

    I hate the Lakers as much as the next guy, but they actually had 3 back to backs before your article was written. The first time they played the Suns, they played the Nuggets the following night and got blown out. One last note, the Lakers have 5 back to backs in Dec. alone. Hopefully that will bring them back down to earth.