Western Conference

Nba Preview

October 29, 2002|By MILTON KENT

(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)

Midwest Division

San Antonio Spurs

Coach: Gregg Popovich (279-163 in six seasons, all in San Antonio)

2001-02 season: 58-24, won the Midwest Division, lost to the Lakers in the second round.

Big offseason pickups: G Speedy Claxton, G Steve Kerr, G Emanuel Ginobili, C Kevin Willis

Key offseason losses: F Mark Bryant, G Antonio Daniels

In a perfect world ... : Tim Duncan has another tremendous season, David Robinson's back holds up for the last go-round and Claxton and Ginobili bring speed and offense to the backcourt.

Nightmare scenario: Robinson gets even older, Tony Parker suffers a sophomore jinx and Duncan starts packing his bag to leave.

Likely outcome: The Spurs make one last unsuccessful charge before Robinson hangs up his saddle.

Dallas Mavericks

Coach: Don Nelson (1,036-806 in 24 seasons; 185-177 in five seasons in Dallas)

2001-02 season: 57-25, second in Midwest, lost to Sacramento in second round.

Big offseason pickups: F Popeye Jones, F Walt Williams

Key offseason loss: F Danny Manning

In a perfect world ... : With so many offensive weapons to pass to, Steve Nash sets an assist record, Jones brings mental toughness and Dirk Nowitzki becomes one of the five best players in the NBA.

Nightmare scenario: Nick Van Exel throws repeated tantrums, the interior remains soft and no one plays a lick of defense.

Likely outcome: Until someone can make a key stop in April, the Mavericks are good for one playoff round and no more.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Coach: Flip Saunders (277-245 in seven seasons, all with Minnesota)

2001-02 season: 50-32, third in Midwest, lost to Dallas in first round.

Big offseason pickups: G Kendall Gill, G Troy Hudson

Key offseason loss: G Chauncey Billups

In a perfect world ... : Kevin Garnett takes criticism to heart and takes over more often, Hudson keeps things settled until Terrell Brandon is ready and Wally Szczerbiak assumes more of an offensive load.

Nightmare scenario: Marc Jackson isn't the answer at center, Rasho Nesterovic provides little as backup center and Hudson can't step up as a starter after being a backup in Orlando.

Likely outcome: Another first-round playoff exit.

Houston Rockets

Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich (460-358 in 11 seasons, all in Houston)

2001-02 season: 28-54, fifth in Midwest, missed playoffs

Big offseason pickups: C Yao Ming, F Bostjan Nachbar

Key offseason losses: F Walt Williams, C Kevin Willis

In a perfect world ... : Steve Francis shakes his migranes, Maurice Taylor is healthy and Eddie Griffin and Cuttino Mobley get better.

Nightmare scenario: Yao doesn't adjust to the tougher American game, Taylor is a bust and Mobley is shot-happy.

Likely outcome: The Rockets are on the rise and should sneak into the playoffs.

Utah Jazz

Coach: Jerry Sloan (828-486 in 17 seasons; 734-365 in 14 seasons in Utah)

2001-02 season: 44-38, fourth in Midwest, lost to Sacramento in first round

Big offseason pickups: G Matt Harpring, G Mark Jackson, G Raul Lopez

Key offseason losses: F Bryon Russell, F Donyell Marshall

In a perfect world ... : Karl Malone and John Stockton defy the aging process one more year, Lopez brings an offensive spark from Spain and Andrei Kirilenko, DeShaun Stevenson and Jarron Collins start the Jazz youth movement.

Nightmare scenario: Stockton and Malone are just older, not better, Sloan stifles the kids and Jackson has little left in his tank.

Likely outcome: The Utah playoff streak ends at 19 seasons and Sloan, Malone and Stockton ride off into the sunset.

Memphis Grizzlies

Coach: Sidney Lowe (79-220 in four seasons; 46-118 in two years with the Grizzlies)

2001-02 season: 23-59, seventh in Midwest, missed playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Drew Gooden, G Earl Watson, G Wesley Person

Key offseason loss: None

In a perfect world ... : Gooden and Pau Gasol form a dynamic frontcourt tandem, Jason Williams plays under control and Shane Battier continues to blossom.

Nightmare scenario: Either Gasol or Gooden have trouble adjusting to the power forward slot, the interior game continues to founder and the Memphis fandom shows indifference.

Likely outcome: It won't be long before new GM Jerry West makes this team over, but patience is needed.

Denver Nuggets

Coach: Jeff Bzdelik (first season)

2001-02 season: 27-55, sixth in Midwest, missed playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Nikoloz Tskitishvili, F Nene Hilario, C Marcus Camby, F Rodney White, G Chris Whitney

Key offseason losses: F Antonio McDyess, C Scott Williams

In a perfect world ... : Tskitishvili, Hilario and White give Denver a nice young forward rotation for the future, Juwan Howard plays hard and moves on, allowing the Nuggets to recoup his $20 million salary slot to get free agents and Bzdelik, the former UMBC coach, lays the groundwork for a promising future.

Nightmare scenario: Lots of losing.

Likely outcome: Nuggets will battle Cleveland for worst-team- in-the-NBA status.

Pacific Division

Sacramento Kings

Coach: Rick Adelman (544-361 in 12 seasons; 187-109 in four years in Sacramento)

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