We’re roadtripping on this NBA Tuesday miniseries entry today, going back down south Interstate 5 from Portland—all the way to Southern California, before we catch Interstate 10 out east to Phoenix. In 54 seasons now, the Suns have made 31 postseason appearances … with an 0-3 record in the NBA Finals (1976, 1993, 2021), sadly. Yet with a .536 winning percentage, the Suns organization has done just fine in professional basketball since its 1968 inception, for sure.
No. 5: 1988-89 Phoenix Suns
The Suns of the late 1980s were a fun run-and-gun team, and this squad was no exception. With a 55-27 record, they finished second in the Pacific Division on the back of the No. 1 offense and the No. 16 defense (in a 25-team league). This amounted to the No. 2 SRS rating, overall. Phoenix blitzed both the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors in the first two postseason rounds, dropping just one game. But then the Suns were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers. Touché.
Three guys led this team: point guard Kevin Johnson (12.2 Win Shares), power forward Tom Chambers (9.2), and shooting guard Jeff Hornacek (7.7). Overall, seven played notched at least 5.1 WS, so this was a deep roster. Yet against the Lakers, the Suns dropped the first two games on the road before losing both Games 3 and 4 at home by a total of 8 points. Remember, this was the Lakers team that was going for a three-peat after winning it all in 1987 and 1988.
No. 4: 2021-22 Phoenix Suns
A 64-18 record was eight games better than any other team in the Western Conference, as the Suns looked to follow up their 2021 Finals appearance with a title. They were No. 5 in offense and No. 8 in defense—adding up to No. 2 overall in the SRS. But after a 6-game series win over the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round, Phoenix had to go 7 games in the second round against the Dallas Mavericks … and after taking a 3-2 lead, the Suns lost two straight by 30 ppg. Ouch.
PG Chris Paul (9.4 WS), small forward Mikal Bridges (8.9), SG Devin Booker (7.6), and center Deandre Ayton (7.3) were the dominant players on the team. But Phoenix had to work too hard in the first round against the Pelicans, and the Suns seemed to run out of gas against the Mavericks. Those last two games tell the story of the upset, but even with those huge margins of victory, Dallas only managed to outscore Phoenix by 3.2 ppg in the series. The Suns had it and let it slip away.
No. 3: 2004-05 Phoenix Suns
First place in the Pacific Division came with a 62-20 record for this team, but it defined the Suns’ mentality of the time: No. 1 in offense and No. 30 in defense (out of 30 teams). Still, a No. 2 SRS rating overall offered some playoff promise. After sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, Phoenix then beat Dallas in 6 games to advance to the Western Conference Finals against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. But it was over quickly in a 5-game series.
This team was a monster with C Amar’e Stoudemire (14.6 WS), PF Shawn Marion (12.5), and PG Steve Nash (10.9) atop the roster. But with only five players total notching at least 2.7 WS, the depth was not there at all. However, against the Spurs, the Suns still scored 104.0 ppg. Yet they gave up 108.2 ppg to the offensively challenged San Antonio roster, which had scored just 96.2 ppg during the regular season. The Spurs won the first three games of the series and then cruised.
No. 2: 1989-90 Phoenix Suns
Phoenix won just 54 games to place third in the Pacific Division, but they were No. 1 in the SRS overall, nonetheless. How? Well, the No. 2 offense helped, even if the No. 18 defense did not. The Suns had a best-of-five dogfight in the first round agains Utah, winning Game 5 on the road by a bucket. Next, Phoenix eliminated the hated Lakers in 5 games before advancing to face Portland in the WCF. Home court held until Game 6, when the Suns lost at home in painful fashion.
Johnson (11.6 WS), Chambers (11.2), and Hornacek (8.7) were joined by C Mark West (8.2) in building a formidable roster. But there was a big drop off after that, and the defense wasn’t always there. This hurt in close games, of course, as the Trail Blazers won their 4 games in the WCF by a combined 12 points. Overall, Phoenix outscored victorious Portland by 5.7 ppg in the series, but … losing the close ones here, especially the Game 6 home loss by 3 points. Those kill you every time.
No. 1: 2006-07 Phoenix Suns
This is the best team in organizational history, surprisingly: Despite finishing first in the Pacific with a 61-21 record, the Suns still could only manage the No. 23 defense. Obviously, the No. 1 offense helped the team to a No. 3 SRS rating overall, but the story seems to always be the same in the Arizona desert … after a 5-game defeat of the Lakers in the first round, Phoenix lost to eventual champion San Antonio in the second round across a 6-game matchup that went south.
Nash (12.6 WS), Marion (12.0), and Stoudamire (11.2) were joined by SG Leandro Barbosa (8.2) to once again present a challenge to opposing defenses—except those in San Antonio. The Spurs won all 4 games by single digits, as the Suns once again outscored a playoff opponent (by a mere 0.5 ppg this time, though). The key game was Game 5 in Phoenix, which San Antonio won by 3 points to take control of the matchup. And just like that … poof! The desert stayed dry.