46-36 record not enough for playoff spot
PHOENIX – Say the Suns had taken care of a seven-point lead over the last two minutes of regulation March 28 in Salt Lake City rather than losing to the Utah Jazz in overtime. The scene at US Airways Center on Wednesday night could have been a stirring one with a playoff bid on the line.
The Suns’ season-ending, 117-113 victory over the seven-man Golden State Warriors would have made Utah and Phoenix 47-35 and the Suns would have held the 3-1 series advantage over Utah for the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
Instead of getting the Lakers, the Suns get the lottery. Instead of going for a fifth consecutive playoff season, the Suns were eliminated April 8, the birthday for Terry Porter, the season’s original coach until he was fired in February.
“Everybody talked about us chasing Dallas and if we would’ve won at Utah, maybe that would’ve been the team we ended up catching,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry, who had Amaré Stoudemire for two games but went 18-13 (.581) to Porter’s 28-23 (.549). “If you go back and look at our season, that’s the game that will come back and haunt us. It’s not to be so we have to regroup and move on.”
The Suns finished at 46-36, giving Phoenix three of the four seasons in NBA history that included at least 46 wins and no playoff spot. The 1970-71 Suns (48-34) and 1971-72 Suns (49-33) missed the postseason when four of nine Western Conference teams qualified. In 25 years of 16-team playoffs, only Golden State’s 48-34 season of a year ago had more wins without a playoff spot than this year’s Suns.
Only four Eastern Conference teams had a better record than Phoenix. The Suns were undone by their lack of defense, becoming the first team in 51 years to miss the playoffs when it led the NBA in scoring and field-goal percentage.
“We didn’t really deserve it,” Suns guard Steve Nash said. “I don’t think we were really desperate enough. We lost the Utah game. We lost a lot of other games we should have won this year. It’s just been a disappointing year. I feel like we don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs. We haven’t proven to ourselves that we deserve it. We’ve got to take our medicine and learn from this.”
The Suns played out the string Wednesday night with some statistical significance.
Nash went 4 of 7 from the field to become the first NBA player in history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line in three seasons. He and Larry Bird were the only ones with two and last season’s 89.9 percent free-throw shooting kept Nash from having another.
Shaquille O’Neal went 5 of 9 from the field, putting his season field-goal shooting at a career-best 61 percent. It was the 10th time that O’Neal has led the NBA in field-goal percentage.
At 36 years old, Grant Hill played all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, closing the season by tying his season high with 27 points.