It's been a frustrating four months in the Valley of the Sun for sports fans.
In late December, the NFL's Arizona Cardinals capped off a successful, nationally-praised 10-6 season with... an early vacation. The 10-win Cardinals set a standard for the most regular season wins without a playoff berth, missing the dance by one game.
Earlier this week, the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes capped off a successful season with a 37-30-15 record, good for 89 points and for their troubles they got an early vacation. They Coyotes missed the playoffs by two points, the equivalent of one win (each win = 2 points, each overtime loss = 1 points, each regular-time loss = 0 points).
A day later, the NBA's Phoenix Suns capped a successful, nationally-praised season with a loss to Memphis, ensuring they would be sent home on an early vacation despite already winning 47 games (with one meaningless game to go).
The 47+-win Suns will become only the 6th NBA team to win 46 or more games, and only the 3rd since the field was expanded to 16 teams, to miss the playoffs. The other two teams to miss? The 2008 Warriors (48 wins) and 2009 Suns (46 wins).
One game out.
That's three major sports franchises in the Valley to miss the postseason by ONE GAME in the last four months.
At least, the MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks aren't likely to pull at our heart strings before snapping it back into our faces. They have mercifully started the season 4-13 with the worst pitching rotation in the majors. Thanks, D'Backs.
Let's put this Suns season into perspective.
Last year, the two young playoffs teams who burst onto the scene and wowed the nation were the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
The Warriors had finally gotten Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut healthy, and raced their way to a 47-35 record to grab the 6th seed in the playoffs as reward for their good work. GS had posted a paltry 23-43 record the year before (lockout-shortened 66 game season), so their rise to 47 wins was a revelation that earned them lots of national attention and TV games.
The Rockets, after acquiring James Harden on the eve of the season, raced their way to a thrilling 45-37 record to nab the 8th seed in the playoffs. Houston had just missed the playoffs the year before, at 34-32, but had turned over nearly their entire roster by opening night of the 2012-13 season. Their rise to 45 wins was heavily documented and rewarded with lots of TV attention across the globe.
Both teams exceeded expectations with young, exciting squads and were rewarded with national TV love and the legitimacy of the playoffs to cement their status and expectations going forward. Thanks to making the playoffs, each team had "arrived".
This year in the Eastern Conference, young teams in Toronto (48-33), Washington (43-38) and Charlotte (42-39) are all getting rewarded with a playoff berth - extending their season and adding legitimacy to what they've done as playoff teams.
The Suns, on the other hand, haven't gotten any of the TV coverage like the Warriors and Rockets the year before, and neither have they enjoyed the legitimacy of the playoffs that all five teams are enjoying.
The Suns started the year off with only one national TV game on the docket (ESPN) and a handful of NBA TV appearances. They began the year on fire, going 19-11 by Christmas with an exciting squad that played both offense and defense, yet was missing the requisite "star" to earn national TV coverage. Yet even while staying in playoff position all season, the Suns never got onto TNT or ABC, and only earned two more ESPN games than were originally scheduled.
And now that the Suns are outed from the playoff picture, they're being treated like that little kid who held his own on the playground but eventually lost the fight to the "big boys".
As all the national pundits finally got it right - that the Suns would never make the playoffs - they're able to breathe easy and give the requisite pats on the top of the head and backside, praised for the "good effort" and sent home with a juice box.
Unfortunately for the Suns, their season will forever be categorized as "upstart" and "exciting" but only as a sideshow before the real season of the playoffs begins.
The Suns were part of the undercard, despite winning the same or more game this season as the "upstart" Warriors and Rockets did last year.
Let's hope next year the Suns don't have to be the team that just missed the playoffs. Let's hope they're not the team being patted on the head for their good effort.
Let's hope they're the team slapping other teams on the back of the head in the playoffs as they streak toward the Finals.