As the final week of the regular season begins, let’s take a moment to give a toast to the Phoenix Suns.
There are no trophies for being the best team in the regular season. But there is a certain honor that comes with this level of success. While the Suns have been careful about celebrating themselves, they have seen the difference in how others perceive this team.
“We’re not a secret anymore,” Suns’ All-Star guard Devin Booker said after last week’s game against the Grizzlies. “We get every team’s best shot and we’ve been getting that all year.”
“Having the best record in the league, that comes with responsibility. Arenas are gonna have more fans than they usually do, and that’s the fun of it. That’s the privilege of having the best record in the NBA.”
Following their run last year to the NBA Finals, the Suns had earned a certain level of recognition as one of the top teams in the NBA.
But not the top team.
In many ways, this was an understandable reaction to last year’s playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks had won the championship, the Brooklyn Nets had an unstoppable big three when available, and the Los Angeles Lakers had won a championship the last time LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both healthy. All of these teams had championship pedigree on their rosters. The Suns' roster simply did not have the resume that these teams had.
Six months later, it’s fair to say that Phoenix has done more than enough to prove themselves. At 62-16, the Suns will be the only team with 60 wins this season and are on the brink of posting the best regular-season record in Suns history. And to do so after losing in last year’s Finals is no small feat.
This is just the 13th time in NBA history that a team has come back from a Finals loss to earn the best record in the league the following year. Of the previous 12 instances, seven teams won the championship in that subsequent season, and only twice has the team failed to reach at least the Conference Finals:
- the ‘89-90 Lakers, who bounced back from their loss in the ‘89 Finals to the Detroit Pistons and topped the league with a 63-19 record in the 1990 season. The Lakers fell to Tom Chambers and Eddie Johnson’s Phoenix Suns team in the second round.
- the ‘06-’07 Mavericks, who came back from their loss to the Miami Heat in the ‘06 Finals and posted a remarkable 67-15 record in the 2007 season. They are the only team in this category to lose in the first round, losing to Baron Davis and the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors.
So despite all that Phoenix has done this year to prove itself, there is still a precedent of failure, a precedent to be forgotten. And suffice to say, it will be difficult to celebrate this season in the aftermath of a playoff exit. Just ask Dirk Nowitzki how he feels about that historic ‘06-07 season.
The accomplishments of the ‘regular-season champion’ are forgotten and glossed over, sometimes rightfully so. Even for the teams that win the actual championship, it is hard to separate the journey of the regular season from the journey to get those 16 playoff wins.
So as we enter this final week of the NBA season, and the Suns continue their search for that historic win #63, take a moment to appreciate all that they have accomplished this year and how far they have come.
Because the real journey has yet to begin.