The Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs. For the fourth consecutive season, they are counting ping pong balls instead of brass balls.
As we enter week three since the Suns last played a game, and approach week four since they last beat a playoff team, it's easy to tuck the Suns season into a corner and forget just how playoff-worthy they were.
As I watch these playoffs, he parity in the Western Conference is quite obvious. The last four seeds in the West - Memphis, Dallas, Golden State and Portland - have all either split the first four games of their playoff tilts against higher seeds or taken the series lead. All four of those teams were within a game or two of the Suns in the last two weeks of the season.
In all four series, the higher seed will need at least 6 games, if not 7, to vanquish their lower-seeded opponent or they will go home early. One series - #7 Memphis vs. #2 Oklahoma City - has set a playoff record at 4 consecutive overtime games!
Why would a Phoenix Suns fan care about this, instead of focusing entirely on the upcoming draft lottery?
Because a healthy Phoenix Suns squad was as good as, or better than, any Western Conference opponent this season. The Suns were 23-11 with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in the starting lineup. Even better, they were 22-9 before losing three consecutive games to these teams when Dragic severely turned his ankle and missed one game while playing hobbled in the other two.
Injuries are no excuse. I get that. Memphis lost Marc Gasol for a third of the season. Golden State lost Andrew Bogut right at the end. Nearly every NBA teams faced injury issues to star players.
I get that. But still, there's a bitter taste in my mouth.
The Suns won 48 games this season to tie the 2008 Golden State Warriors for most wins by a lottery team since going to a 16-team bracket, missing the playoffs by just one win. A good final weekend would have vaulted the Suns into the playoff picture, but Dragic's ankle squelched those hopes.
Hard to believe just a year ago the decidedly-average Los Angeles Lakers squeaked into the playoffs with a 45-37 record. The Suns, in fact, would have been the 6th seed a year ago with their 48 wins, topping the Lakers, Rockets and Warriors.
But we can't bemoan undeserving teams in the West playoffs. Everyone belongs.
These first round matchups, especially the Dallas/San Antonio and Memphis/OKC, have been marvelous and a load of fun to watch. Every game going down the wire. Every game being won by big shots, big stops, big plays.
But I have to wonder what the Suns could have done, had they been able to crash the party. OKC and San Antonio looks very beatable. The Suns could be staring down a chance to pull into the second round right now, waiting for another beatable opponent who survived a bloody first round.
No one in the West is far and away the best team.
I can totally see Memphis and Dallas squaring off in the Western Conference Finals.
Which means I can totally see the Suns going just as far, if not farther.