PHOENIX, JUNE 1 -- Kevin Johnson surveyed the damage that was evident in the Phoenix Suns' locker room. Not to his injured left hamstring; that will heal in time. He was thinking of the psychological scars of losing four games to the Portland Trail Blazers in the manner his team did.

"The three out there {in Portland}, and the one here, they all kind of went together," he said. "We had a situation where we could win it, and we didn't on four occasions. I don't think that's a fluke. They did what it took. We didn't have what it would take. I'm hoping all the guys leave here and remember how we feel exactly right now, and how we could do better."

The Suns lost the Western Conference title by a total of 12 points. That was the margin of defeat in their four losses to the Trail Blazers, who had the look of champions in making all the important defensive stops in four straight fourth quarters. So the Trail Blazers made the finals for the first time in 13 years, while the Suns have much to ponder.

Does this team have what it takes? Are its go-to guys really go-to guys? The Suns are at a point about a half-dozen teams have reached in the last decade. Are they really good enough to win it all, to challenge the Pistons and Lakers and Celtics, or just talented enough to fall tantalizingly short?

After winning on the road to beat Utah and Los Angeles, Phoenix looked as if it had the ability to take such nail-biters away from home. But the Suns had three shots to get home-court advantage in Portland, and missed each one.

"I'm not in a rush for next year to come," said Johnson, who missed most of Thursday's 112-109 defeat after straining his hamstring late in the second quarter. "I think I need a lot of time to meditate on what we all can do to be a more improved team and take advantage of the situations that were here."

They have to ponder forward Tom Chambers failing to come through in the clutch, making 11 of his last 37 shots in the final two games. That followed a subpar performance in last season's conference finals against the Lakers. Eddie Johnson also had a bad playoff, and, aside from guard Jeff Hornacek and swingman Dan Majerle, no one seemed willing to take the big shots with Kevin Johnson absent.

Hornacek stepped up and scored a career-high 36 points Thursday. But Portland's Terry Porter shut him down in the final five minutes just as he had been able to do to Johnson late in Games 1 and 2, when the Suns let two games in Portland get away.

"It would be different if they came out there and blew us out, and we didn't have a chance to win the series," Hornacek said. "It's like an extra disappointment because we did beat the Lakers and I think everyone felt they were probably the best team in the league this year with 63 wins. We beat them and we couldn't make it all the way."

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers got the day off today from Coach Rick Adelman. For five years they had been thought of as underachievers, with players who couldn't get it done. They hadn't advanced past the first round since 1985, and then were dispatched in five games by the Lakers in the conference semifinals.

No one picked them to get by Los Angeles this season -- or Phoenix, or even San Antonio in some circles. But Portland is almost a new team with six new players, the most important of which is veteran forward Buck Williams.

With the playoff victories, the decision to retain the core of Porter, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Duckworth and Jerome Kersey, even though they had sniped at each other in the past, was vindicated.

"If we hadn't been able to do something like {acquiring Williams}, we may have had to make the trade or do something that I didn't want to do," Vice President of Basketball Operations Bucky Buckwalter said. "I said all along I wanted to keep the athletes together."

Getting Williams from New Jersey for Sam Bowie and a No. 1 draft pick was critical. Just as former Piston Rick Mahorn solidified a rather disparate group in Philadelphia, Williams became the defensive anchor and overall leader of the Trail Blazers.

They posted a club-record 59 victories, with a 48-22 (.686) record against nonexpansion teams. Most impressive, they were 24-17 on the road, and beat New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington in succession on an eastern swing late in the regular season.

"I told them in training camp," Adelman said, "if we didn't get together defensively, we weren't going to win in the playoffs. We were going to have to defend and rebound. Everyone's been talking about the Blazers' potential for years. It was either put up or shut up."