Western Conference In predicted order of finish

Posted: October 28, 2007

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Utah Jazz

Last year: 51-31 (first; lost in the conference finals).

Coach: Jerry Sloan (1,035-689).

Key additions: First-round pick Morris Almond, from Rice, was one of the top pure shooters in college. He will try to crack the guard rotation.

Key losses: Guard Derek Fisher, who provided great leadership, returned to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Outlook: The Jazz have one of the top point guards in Deron Williams (16.2 points per game, 9.3 assists) and one of the best power forwards in Carlos Boozer (20.9 ppg., 11.7 ppg.). The key will be whether forward Andrei Kirilenko (8.3 ppg.) can rebound from a subpar season.

Denver Nuggets

Last year: 45-37 (second; lost in the first round of the playoffs).

Coach: George Karl (829-582).

Key additions: Power forward Kenyon Martin isn't really an addition, but he played only two games last season because of a knee injury. Point guard Chucky Atkins signed from Memphis. Former 76er Steven Hunter will attempt to fit in the frontcourt mix.

Key losses: Point guard Steve Blake signed with Portland.

Outlook: The offense should be proficient with Carmelo Anthony (28.9 ppg.) and former Sixer Allen Iverson (26.3 ppg.). Even with defensive player of the year Marcus Camby (3.3 blocks), the Nuggets are below average defensively.

Seattle SuperSonics

Last year: 31-51 (fifth).

Coach: P.J. Carlesimo (183-222).

Key additions: First-round forwards Kevin Durant (Texas) and Jeff Green (Georgetown) are building blocks. Former St. Joseph's guard Delonte West and forward Wally Szczerbiak were traded from Boston. Center Kurt Thomas was traded from Phoenix. Carlesimo takes over his third NBA team.

Key losses: All-star guard Ray Allen was traded to Boston. Forward Rashard Lewis signed with Orlando.

Outlook: The Sonics are not good enough to earn a postseason spot. The leading returning scorer is forward Chris Wilcox (13.5 ppg.), but point guard Luke Ridnour (11 ppg., 5.2 apg.) has yet to put it together.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Last year: 32-49 (third).

Coach: Randy Wittman (74-132).

Key additions: Forward Al Jefferson (16 ppg., 11 rebounds) was the best player acquired from Boston. Forward Gerald Green, another ex-Celtic, could be a contributor. First-round swingman Corey Brewer, from Florida, will bring a defensive mind-set. Forwards Antoine Walker and Wayne Simien and center Michael Doleac were traded from Miami.

Key losses: Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston, and Ricky Davis was dealt to Miami.

Outlook: The Wolves have some talented young players, including former Villanova guard Randy Foye (10.1 ppg.), but they are too inexperienced to contend.

Portland Trail Blazers

Last year: 32-50 (fourth).

Coach: Nate McMillan (265-294).

Key additions: Underrated point guard Steve Blake was signed as a free agent from Denver. Forward Channing Frye (9.5 ppg.) will try to rebound from a disappointing second season with the New York Knicks.

Key losses: The top addition is also a loss because Greg Oden, the first overall draft pick, is expected to miss the season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee.

Outlook: Even with Oden, it's likely the Trail Blazers would have struggled to make the playoffs. Rookie of the year Brandon Roy (16.8 ppg.) and second-year forward LaMarcus Aldridge (9.0 ppg.) are building blocks.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Phoenix Suns

Last year: 61-21 (first; lost in the second round).

Coach: Mike D'Antoni (212-145).

Key additions: Oft-injured Grant Hill, who averaged 14.4 points for Orlando, was signed. Former Sixer forward-center Brian Skinner was signed from Milwaukee. First-round forward Alando Tucker will attempt to join the frontcourt rotation.

Key losses: Center Kurt Thomas was traded to Seattle.

Outlook: Center Amare Stoudemire (20.4 ppg., 9.6 rpg.) is expected back in time after arthroscopic right-knee surgery earlier this month. With Steve Nash (18.6 ppg., 11.6 apg.) and Shawn Marion (17.5 ppg., 9,8 rpg.) still going strong, the Suns have the ability to win the conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

Last year: 42-40 (tied for second; lost in the first round).

Coach: Phil Jackson (919-393).

Key additions: Two key point guards were added: veteran Derek Fisher (10.1 ppg.), from Utah, and first-rounder Javaris Crittenton, from Georgia Tech.

Key losses: Point guard Smush Parker signed with Miami.

Outlook: Kobe Bryant (31.6 ppg.) tried to talk his way out, but he's back. Lamar Odom (15.9 ppg., 9.8 rpg.) is a strong complementary player. The development of 20-year-old third-year center Andrew Bynum will be crucial.

Golden State Warriors

Last year: 42-40 (tied for second; lost in the second round).

Coach: Don Nelson (1,232-920).

Key additions: First-round guard Marco Bellini, from Italy, is a terrific pure shooter. Forward Austin Croshere was signed from Dallas. Forward Brandon Wright was the No. 8 overall pick in the draft out of North Carolina.

Key losses: Guard Jason Richardson was traded to Charlotte. Forward-center Adonal Foyle is in Orlando.

Outlook: Point guard Baron Davis (20.1 ppg.) must show better durability after missing 19 games last year. Swingman Stephen Jackson (15.5 ppg.) is a lot of maintenance, but he can play.

Sacramento Kings

Last year: 32-49 (fifth).

Coach: Reggie Theus (first year).

Key additions: Center Mikki Moore comes from the New Jersey Nets and is an energetic player. First-round pick Spencer Hawes must bounce back after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during the second week of October.

Key losses: Former Sixer Corliss Williamson has retired.

Outlook: This is an aging team with two of the game's best players, point guard Mike Bibby (17.1 ppg., 4.7 apg.) and forward Ron Artest (18.8 ppg.), continually on the trading block. Shooting guard Kevin Martin (20.2 ppg.) provides an outside threat, but this could be a long season.

Los Angeles Clippers

Last year: 40-42 (fourth).

Coach: Mike Dunleavy (550-566).

Key additions: First-round forward Al Thornton, from Florida State, gives the Clippers another offense-minded player. Two free agents are point guard Brevin Knight, from Charlotte, and Ruben Patterson, from Milwaukee.

Key losses: Elton Brand is out with a ruptured left Achilles tendon, and point guard Shaun Livingston is sidelined while recovering from a gruesome knee injury. It's conceivable that they could miss most of, if not the entire, season.

Outlook: Former Cardinal Dougherty guard Cuttino Mobley (13.8 ppg.) and Corey Maggette (16.9 ppg.) are the key returning scorers. Without Brand and Livingston, the season will be bleak.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Dallas Mavericks

Last year: 67-15 (first; lost in the first round).

Coach: Avery Johnson (143-39).

Key additions: Former Temple star Eddie Jones was signed from Miami. Forward Nick Fazekas was drafted from Nevada.

Key losses: None of consequence.

Outlook: After being stunned by Golden State in the first round last year, Dallas has to mend its psyche. MVP Dirk Nowitzki (24.6 ppg.) needs to perform better in the postseason. Forward Josh Howard (18.9 ppg.) and point guard Jason Terry (16.7 ppg.) must be more consistent.

San Antonio Spurs

Last year: 58-24 (second; won the NBA Finals).

Coach: Gregg Popovich (576-276).

Key additions: Swingman Ime Udoka averaged 8.4 points for Portland.

Outlook: With four NBA titles in nine years, the Spurs remain the team to beat. As long as Tim Duncan (20 ppg., 10.6 rpg.), Tony Parker (18.6 ppg.) and Manu Ginobili (16.5 ppg.) stay healthy, the Spurs will contend.

Houston Rockets

Last year: 52-30 (third; lost in the first round).

Coach: Rick Adelman (752-481).

Key additions: Adelman will turn Houston into a transition team instead of Jeff Van Gundy's plodding half-court offense. Former all-star point guard Steve Francis was signed as a free agent. Highly touted forward Luis Scola, who was playing in Europe, was acquired from San Antonio. Point guard Mike James was reacquired from Minnesota. First-round guard Aaron Brooks will attempt to find time in the backcourt.

Key losses: Forward Juwan Howard was sent to Minnesota in the James trade.

Outlook: This could be the year that Tracy McGrady (24.6 ppg.) gets out of the first round of the playoffs. With Yao Ming (25 ppg.) and defensive specialist Shane Battier (10.1 ppg.), this is a talented team.

New Orleans Hornets

Last year: 39-43 (fourth).

Coach: Byron Scott (244-290).

Key additions: Swingman Morris Peterson was signed from Toronto. First-round forward Julian Wright, from Kansas, was one of the top athletes in the draft.

Key losses: Forward Desmond Mason signed with Milwaukee. Forward Cedric Simmons was traded to Cleveland.

Outlook: A decent team in a great division, the Hornets must stay healthy. Peja Stojakovic was limited to 13 games with a back injury. Point guard Chris Paul (17.3 ppg.) missed 18 games; forward Davis West (18.3 ppg.) was sidelined for 30.

Memphis Grizzlies

Last year: 22-60 (fifth).

Coach: Marc Iavaroni (first year).

Key additions: Iavaroni, a former Sixer, will bring an up-tempo style. First-round point guard Mike Conley Jr. will run the attack. Forward-center Darko Milicic (someone the Sixers had considered) signed as a free agent from Orlando. Highly regarded shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who was playing in Spain, was acquired in a trade with Washington.

Key losses: Point guard Chucky Atkins signed with Denver.

Outlook: This is a young team with talent, led by Pau Gasol (20.8 ppg.), Mike Miller (18.5 ppg.) and Rudy Gay (10.8 ppg.), along with Villanova's Kyle Lowry, who was limited to 10 games with a wrist injury. The Grizzlies should be vastly improved.

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