Western Conference

Nba Preview

October 28, 2003|By Milton Kent

Western Conference

Midwest Division

San Antonio Spurs

Coach: Gregg Popovich (339-185 in seven years, all in San Antonio)

2002-03 season: 60-22, won Midwest Division, defeated New Jersey in NBA Finals.

Big offseason pickups: C Rasho Nesterovic, F Ron Mercer, F Robert Horry, F Hedo Turkoglu.

Key offseason losses: C David Robinson, G Stephen Jackson, G Speedy Claxton.

In a perfect world ... : Nesterovic will step right in for Robinson without the Spurs missing a beat, Manu Ginobili moves smoothly into the starting lineup and Tim Duncan has another MVP-caliber year.

Nightmare scenario: Mercer and Turkoglu clash for playing time behind Bruce Bowen, Tony Parker holds a grudge over the Spurs' courting of Jason Kidd and the role players leave Duncan high and dry.

Likely outcome: It's rare to see a title team make so many changes, but as long as Duncan is healthy, San Antonio has an excellent chance to repeat.

Dallas Mavericks

Coach: Don Nelson (1,096-828 in 25 NBA seasons, 245-199 in six years in Dallas)

2002-03 season: 60-22, second in Midwest, lost to San Antonio in conference finals.

Big offseason pickups: F Antoine Walker, F Antawn Jamison, G Tony Delk, F Danny Fortson

Key offseason losses: G Nick Van Exel, C Raef LaFrentz

In a perfect world ... : The Mavericks produce the highest-scoring offense since the Denver Nuggets of the 1980s, Walker relieves Steve Nash of some ball-handling duties and Jamison takes some of the interior scoring load from Dirk Nowitzki.

Nightmare scenario: Dallas doesn't play a stitch of defense, Walker shoots as indiscriminately with the Mavericks as he did with the Celtics and Michael Finley doesn't adjust well to the shift to shooting guard.

Likely outcome: It's amazing Dallas still didn't address its gaping hole in the middle, the one thing that keeps it out of the Finals.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Coach: Flip Saunders (328-276 in eight years, all in Minnesota)

2002-03 season: 51-31, third in Midwest, lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in first round.

Big offseason pickups: C Michael Olowokandi, G Sam Cassell, F Latrell Sprewell

Key offseason loss: C Joe Smith.

In a perfect world ... : Sprewell and Cassell become quality scoring options behind Kevin Garnett, Olowokandi provides the long-absent low post presence the Timberwolves have needed and Sprewell becomes Minnesota's best perimeter defender.

Nightmare scenario: Cassell gripes about his shooting opportunities, Sprewell continues his downward slide and Olowokandi is as big a bust in Minnesota as he was with the Clippers.

Likely outcome: After seven straight first-round exits from the playoffs, the Timberwolves made a bunch of moves designed to get to the next level. They should work, or Saunders will pay with his job.

Houston Rockets

Coach: Jeff Van Gundy (248-172 in seven years; first season in Houston)

2002-03 season: 43-39, fifth in Midwest, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Jim Jackson, G Eric Piatkowski

Key offseason losses: F James Posey

In a perfect world ... : Yao Ming takes more giant steps toward being a dominant force at center, Steve Francis' headaches go away and the Rockets respond to Van Gundy's "defense-first, walk it up slowly" approach.

Nightmare scenario: Francis chafes at Van Gundy's lack of offensive creativity, Yao doesn't develop any further and Eddie Griffin's off-the-court problems get in the way of his game.

Likely outcome: There's enough talent for the Rockets to sneak into the playoffs, but the Van Gundy-Francis relationship could be toxic.

Denver Nuggets

Coach: Jeff Bzdelik (17-65 in one season in Denver)

2002-03 season: 17-65, seventh in Midwest, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Carmelo Anthony (rookie), G Andre Miller, G Voshon Lenard.

Key offseason losses: F Juwan Howard

In a perfect world ... : Anthony is the Rookie of the Year, Miller is the prototype point guard and Marcus Camby can play a full, productive season at center.

Nightmare scenario: Nene leaves some of his game behind along with his last name, Anthony struggles and Camby gets hurt again.

Likely outcome: Nowhere near as bad as last year, and in a year or so, the Nuggets will challenge for a playoff spot.

Memphis Grizzlies

Coach: Hubie Brown (369-456 in 12 NBA seasons; 28-46 in Memphis in one season)

2002-03 season: 28-54, sixth in Midwest, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: C Jake Tsakalidis, F James Posey, F Bo Outlaw

Key offseason losses: G Brevin Knight

In a perfect world ... : Pau Gasol explodes into the top echelon of power forwards, Mike Miller blossoms at shooting guard and Tsakalidis gives the Grizzlies the low post power the franchise has never had.

Nightmare scenario: Gasol remains soft, point guard Jason Williams remains stubborn and Brown has to turn to Stromile Swift or Lorenzen Wright to man the middle.

Likely outcome: The Grizzlies would be a playoff team in the East, and it won't be much longer before they get there in the West.

Utah Jazz

Coach: Jerry Sloan (875-521 in 18 NBA seasons; 781-400 in 15 years in Utah)

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