With the signing of Kelly Oubre Jr., azcentral’s Greg Moore and Katherine Fitzgerald discuss why Oubre is a good fit for the Suns.
Brian Snyder, Arizona Republic
The Phoenix Suns are improved, in Mikal Bridges’ opinion.
“I think we’ve got a better team and great coaching staff as well that’s going to put us in a great position to be the best team we can be,” he said. “I’m really excited.”
Whether their record reflects it or not this upcoming season remains to be seen.
The Suns made several offseason moves, with the biggest ones being the free-agent signing of Ricky Rubio and re-signing of Kelly Oubre, but the Western Conference appears to be even stronger.
Anthony Davis joined LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teamed up in the same city with the Clippers.
So the Suns, under new coach Monty Williams, might indeed be better, but they aren’t expected to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
But they can’t finish with just 19 wins for a second consecutive season, can they?
With the NBA schedules being released Monday, here’s a breakdown of the Suns’ 2019-20 regular-season schedule.
Oct. 23 vs. Sacramento Kings at Talking Stick Resort Arena
The Suns went 1-3 against the Kings last season. Something Phoenix should keep in mind, but this will also be Richaun Holmes’ return to the desert.
He only played one season with Phoenix, but became a fan favorite. Expect a standing ovation when Holmes enters the game and for him to have mutual love for the sellout crowd.
Phoenix gave Holmes an opportunity to shine, and that led to him signing that two-year, $10-million contract. That doesn’t mean he’s going to take it easy on the Suns that night.
Then there’s Igor Kokoskov who was hired as an assistant in Sacramento under Luke Walton after Phoenix fired him as he went 19-63 in his first, and last season as head coach. He’ll likely get A mixture of cheers and jeers.
Good guy, but had an awful season.
Oct. 25 at Denver Nuggets
The Suns played at Denver in their second game last season and left with a 119-91 loss. It will be a good early test to see how Phoenix looks playing one of the NBA’s top teams.
The Suns follow that up with the Los Angeles Clippers in the second game of a back-to-back Oct. 26 in Phoenix. That’s a tall order to play at Denver and then take on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the much-improved Clippers.
Longest road trip
March 23: at Indiana Pacers
March 25: at Washington Wizards
March 27: at Philadelphia 76ers
March 28: at Miami Heat
March 30: at Cleveland Cavaliers
Phoenix went 1-4 against these teams on the road last season with the win coming against the Heat to end a franchise-record, 17-game losing skid.
You have to figure the 76ers and Pacers will be in playoff contention and in position to rest key players. Cleveland should be an easier game, but Washington and Miami are mysteries.
This will also be Oubre’s second trip back to D.C. to face his former team. The Suns lost in his first trip back in triple overtime.
Feb. 26: vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Feb. 28: vs. Detroit Pistons
Feb. 29: vs. Golden State Warriors
March 3: vs. Toronto Raptors
March 6: vs. Portland Trail Blazers
March 8: vs. Milwaukee Bucks
This might very well be Phoenix’s toughest stretch.
All six teams made the playoffs last season starting with the Clippers, who are much improved with Leonard, the 2019 NBA Finals MVP, and George.
The Suns follow that with the Pistons. Then they face the Warriors and Raptors, who met in the NBA Finals, and the Trail Blazers and Bucks, who reached their respective conference finals.
When a team is coming off a 19-63 season with a new head coach, influx of new players and five consecutive losing seasons, every game seems tough, but it’s a tossup between that six-game homestand and the following 10-game stretch.
Dec. 14: vs. San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City
Dec. 16: vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Dec. 17: at Los Angeles Clippers
Dec. 20: at Oklahoma City Thunder
Dec. 21: at Houston Rockets
Dec. 23: vs. Denver Nuggets
Dec. 27: at Golden State Warriors
Dec. 28: at Sacramento Kings
Dec. 30: at Portland Trail Blazers
Jan. 1: at Los Angeles Lakers
Out of those nine teams, only Sacramento and the Lakers didn’t make the playoffs last season. The Kings and Lakers went 3-1 against the Suns.
Got three back-to-backs in there with one being Portland followed by a trip to Los Angeles to face the new-look Clippers led by Leonard and George..
Phoenix closes that stretch out with a second game against the Blazers before facing James, Davis and the new-look Lakers.
Fly back to Phoenix first. Don’t spend New Year’s Eve in La-La land.
Dec. 14: Phoenix plays San Antonio at Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City at 5 p.m. ET on NBA TV.
The Suns played two games in Mexico City in 2016-17. They lost to Dallas, 113-108, on Jan. 12, but beat San Antonio two days later, 108-105.
Devin Booker scored 39 points in both games.
Rubio’s return to Salt Lake City
Feb. 24: at Utah Jazz.
Utah acquiring Mike Conley was the final signal it was moving on without Rubio, who helped the Jazz reach the playoffs in each of his two seasons there.
Phoenix acquired him and this will be his first trip back to Utah to face his former teammates and the point guard the Jazz got to essentially replace him.
Should be fun.
First matchup against TJ Warren
Jan. 22: vs. Indiana Pacers.
The Suns traded Warren, the team’s second-leading scorer last season and the No. 32 pick in the 2019 draft to Indiana for cash considerations.
A talented scorer, Warren had his share of injuries. Phoenix cleared some cap space in the trade, but if healthy, Warren could put up huge numbers in that first game.
First matchup against Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton
Nov. 2: at Memphis Grizzlies.
Phoenix shipped Jackson, Melton and two future second-round picks to Memphis for Jevon Carter and Kyle Korver, who was bought out and later signed with Milwaukee.
A fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Jackson showed flashes, but didn’t live up to the expectations on a consistent basis. Couple that with off-court issues and the Suns needing to clear cap space to sign Rubio, Jackson became expendable.
Jackson always played with a competitive edge that overflowed. Expect him to be full tilt for this one.
As for Melton, he might have a huge jump in his development after an experimental rookie season. He too could also have a chip on his shoulder to show he was one of the point guards Phoenix should’ve kept.
First matchup against Troy Daniels
Nov. 12 vs. Los Angeles Lakers.
Daniels will get his share of open shots playing alongside James, but can be a liability on the defensive end. He can be that 3-point specialist in Los Angeles and will get a chance to show that in this game.
First matchup against Dragan Bender
Feb. 2: at Milwaukee Bucks.
Bender never lived up to being the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, but could find a specialist role on a championship contender in Milwaukee.
This will only add flavor to the game as Phoenix swept the Bucks, who had the NBA’s best record last season.
April 15: vs. Lakers.
Fourth and final one against Bron, A.D. and the Lakers. Maybe they will have already clinched a playoff berth and those two all-stars will sit out that one.
Will this be Phoenix’s final game for the season in 2019-20?
The Suns will begin to answer that question Oct. 23.
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