The 2012-13 NBA season is almost here, and the Phoenix Suns will begin their campaign with plenty of new faces on the roster. Following the departure of Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Robin Lopez along with the addition of Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Luis Scola during the offseason, this Suns team looks drastically different from the Suns teams of seasons past.
All of this change means that there will be plenty of storylines to follow over the 82-game schedule. Here's an early look at the top 10 Suns games to watch in 2012-13:
Monday, November 5th- at Miami Heat
After facing the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic to open the season, the Suns head to Miami for a match-up against the defending champion Heat. Miami has an even better team on paper this year with the offseason additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and they are the early favorites to win it all. If Phoenix can somehow pull off a strong showing here with either a win (crazy, I know) or a close loss (say, six points or less), the Suns might be able to develop some early-season momentum.
Monday, November 12th- vs. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets played like the Suns of old last year, and they're going to continue playing an up-tempo style this season as well. Led by point guard Ty Lawson and their athletic wings, Denver led the league with 19.8 fast-break points and 104.1 total points per game in 2011-12. With Goran Dragic pushing the ball up the floor for Phoenix, this should be a very high-scoring and entertaining contest.
This game also marks an important part of the Suns schedule before a challenging stretch against the Chicago Bulls (home), Los Angeles Lakers (away) and Miami Heat (home) in three of the next four nights.
Friday, December 14th- vs. Utah Jazz
Remember when the Suns and the Jazz faced off in a must-win game late last season for the final Western Conference playoff spot? The Jazz prevailed 100-88 in Salt Lake City and sent Phoenix to its second consecutive offseason without a playoff berth. Neither team has clearly improved its roster from last year, and these two squads could find themselves fighting for a low playoff seed once again this year. The head-to-head record could become a factor in such a case, and it'll be important for Phoenix to pick up this win at home.
Saturday, December 29th- at Minnesota Timberwolves
Just a few days before we ring in 2013 and permanently put the 2012 apocalypse theories to bed (assuming that we're all still alive), new Suns additions Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson take on their former team for the first time. Both were high draft picks out of college and both have underperformed in their NBA careers so far. Fortunately, the Suns have helped top draft picks rejuvenate their careers in recent seasons (Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill). Could Beasley and Johnson join that list? Odds are that we'll know one way or the other by the time this game ends as both Johnson and Beasley will have played 31 games with the Suns.
Saturday, January 12th- at Chicago Bulls
Phoenix's match-up with Chicago marks the end of a tough four-game Eastern Conference road trip that consists of two back-to-backs. The Suns will be at Milwaukee and at Boston on January 8th and 9th before playing at Brooklyn and at Chicago on January 11th and 12th. Yikes, that's four games in five nights. This stretch will help reveal just how strong the Suns are as a road team against decent to strong competition. Going 2-2 or better during this part of the schedule has to be considered a success.
Wednesday, January 30th- vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Mark your calendars. January 30th is the day that Steve Nash returns to the desert as a Laker for the first time. We'll probably hear a fair amount of boos for Nash throughout this game, which is a shame considering everything that he has done as a Sun. But the fact is undeniable: lots of Suns fans still feel betrayed by Nash's decision to join their hated division rivals. You can expect the crowd to be electric for this one, and it may be just the boost that the Suns need to spring the upset. This may be the single biggest game of the season for Phoenix.
Friday, February 8th- at Oklahoma City Thunder
The first half of February is brutal for Phoenix, and this contest marks the beginning of a tough three-game stretch just before the All-Star Break. Phoenix takes on OKC twice over three nights and then faces the Lakers on the road two days later. Basically, the Suns could end up facing the top two teams in the West three times over five nights just before their week off. A couple of losses here wouldn't be too tragic, but a couple of wins could help this team a lot.
Sunday, February 24th- vs. San Antonio Spurs
We all know that the Suns like to pick things up after the All-Star Break. Last season, Phoenix rebounded from a 14-20 start with a 19-13 run after the break to challenge for the eighth playoff spot in the West. This game against the Spurs is Phoenix's fourth contest after All-Star Weekend, and we should know by the end of this contest whether or not the Suns have what it takes to make another late-season run (or if there's anything to make a run at).
Saturday, March 9th- at Houston Rockets
This game is Phoenix's first match-up with the Rockets in 2012-13 before playing them three more times over the next 38 days. Dragic and Scola face off against their old squad for the first time, and they'll be motivated to put up stats against the organization that let them leave after last year. If Dragic and Jeremy Lin can maintain the flashes of high-level play that we saw from them last year, we could be in for a series of very entertaining point guard match-ups. Also, the four games against Houston during the season's final six weeks could be critical for playoff seeding if one or both teams is in the playoff race.
Sunday, April 7th- vs. New Orleans Hornets
Phoenix's closing schedule is once again littered with Western Conference foes (17 in a row last season, eight in a row this year), and this game against the Hornets could be crucial in making the playoffs if the Suns are in the hunt. After this match-up, Phoenix plays four of its final five regular season games on the road against playoff-caliber competition (at Houston, Dallas, Minnesota and Denver). It'll be hard to come by wins during that stretch, and it'll be important for the Suns to take care of the young Hornets at home before the road trip begins. With young superstar Anthony Davis playing alongside former Sun Robin Lopez and talented guard Eric Gordon, the Hornets could be fighting for a low playoff seed themselves and will make this a very interesting game.
Between these 10 games and the other 72 on Phoenix's schedule, there will be plenty of intriguing match-ups to watch this season. Let's hope that the Suns can put together a strong campaign in the first year of the post-Nash era.