Western Conference

Pro Basketball

April 21, 2001|By Milton Kent

Playoff matchups

No. 1 San Antonio (58-24) vs. No. 8 Minnesota (47-35)

Coaches: San Antonio's Gregg Popovich is 221-139 in four seasons, all with the Spurs. In six seasons, all with the Timberwolves, Flip Saunders is 227-213.

Season series: The Spurs won the series, 3-1.

Spurs outlook: San Antonio went 35-9 after Jan. 23, nailing down home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Though Tim Duncan and David Robinson are the cornerstones of the attack, the Spurs are deep and versatile, as Danny Ferry and Terry Porter have emerged as starters, with Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson, key starters on the 1999 championship team, coming off the bench.

Timberwolves outlook: Minnesota's 47 wins are the most ever for an eighth seed, but the Timberwolves lost four of their last five to close the regular season. Wally Szczerbiak has emerged as a solid outside complement to Kevin Garnett's all-court brilliance. Terrell Brandon had his best NBA season at point guard.

Bottom line: Spurs are on a title mission and Minnesota can't stop it. San Antonio in three.

No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers (56-26) vs. No. 7 Portland (50-32)

Coaches: Phil Jackson of Los Angeles is 668-234 in 11 seasons, 123-41 in two years with the Lakers. Portland's Mike Dunleavy is 398-390 in 10 NBA seasons, 190-106 in four years with the Trail Blazers.

Season series: The teams split four games.

Lakers outlook: The defending champions are surging at the right time, winning eight straight to close the regular season, including an Easter win over Portland. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant have made nice with each other and are the only teammates in league history to average over 28 points apiece in the same season. Isaiah Rider was left off the Lakers' playoff roster submitted to the NBA, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Trail Blazers outlook: Portland is a dispirited mess, what with Rasheed Wallace's petulance, a knee injury to Bonzi Wells and horrible chemistry. Still, the Trail Blazers were the second-best shooting team in the league, and they have more talent than any other team in the league.

Bottom line: The only question is, can Portland win one in this series. Probably, but that won't be enough. Los Angeles in four.

No. 3 Sacramento (55-27) vs. No. 6 Phoenix (51-31)

Coaches: Sacramento's Rick Adelman is 489-340 in 11 seasons overall, 126-88 in three seasons with the Kings. Scott Skiles is 91-53 in two seasons in Phoenix.

Season series: Sacramento won three of four games.

Kings outlook: Sacramento learned the virtues of defense, and nearly knocked the Lakers off their Pacific Division perch. Bobby Jackson gets a lot of Jason Williams' fourth-quarter minutes at point because of his defense, and the Kings thrive from it. Chris Webber has officially supplanted Karl Malone as the NBA's best power forward. At 33-8, Sacramento tied San Antonio for best home record.

Suns outlook: Not previously known as a defensive team, Phoenix allows teams to score 91.8 points a game. Skiles has remade the Suns into a half-court team, centered around Jason Kidd's passing and Shawn Marion's versatility and athleticism.

Bottom line: Could be a closer series than many expect, but the Kings are too explosive. Sacramento in five.

No. 4 Utah (53-29) vs. No. 5 Dallas (53-29)

Coaches: Jerry Sloan of the Jazz is 784-448 in 16 seasons, 689-327 in 13 seasons in Utah. Dallas' Don Nelson is 979-781 in 23 NBA seasons, 128-152 in four seasons with the Mavericks.

Season series: The two teams split four games, each winning twice on the road.

Jazz outlook: Utah looked poised at midseason to win the Midwest but stumbled badly in March. Donyell Marshall is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player and has been solid since moving into the starting lineup for Bryon Russell after the All-Star break.

Mavericks outlook: Dallas is the sexy pick in the postseason because of its youth and exuberance. Former Wizard Juwan Howard has responded well since the Feb. 22 trade and will likely draw the assignment of guarding Karl Malone in the series.

Bottom line: The Mavericks are on the verge of being a great team. The Jazz is just getting older. Dallas in four.

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