The Phoenix Suns were one of the NBA's feel-good stories of the 2013-14 campaign, improving by 23 wins under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek after finishing last season a woeful 25-57—the franchise's worst mark since a 16-win campaign in its inaugural 1968-69 season.
However, for all their achievements this season, the Suns remarkably won't be participating in the playoffs. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Suns' 48 wins were tied for the most by a team to miss the playoffs since the postseason format expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84. The 2007-08 Golden State Warriors also achieved the unfortunate feat of winning 48 games but missing the playoffs.
Credit the vast gulf in talent between the Western and Eastern Conferences as the major reason for the Suns being squeezed out of a playoff berth. Phoenix's 48-34 record left them battling with the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final spot in the West over the final days of the regular season, but the Suns likely would have solidified a spot weeks earlier had they played in the East.
Like the Suns, the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls posted 48-34 marks and ended up claiming the third and fourth seeds in the East, respectively. The eighth seed in the East, the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks, finished a full 10 games behind those teams in the standings.
Fortunately for the Suns, the vast improvement this season offers hope that they may end their four-year playoff drought in 2014-15. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe emerged as one of the league's more exciting backcourt combinations while players such as Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris emerged as valuable rotation pieces. And with Emeka Okafor's contract set to expire this offseason to provide cap relief, the Suns could add a needed post threat to help get them over the hump.