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Western Conference Capsules


No. 1 San Antonio (37-13) vs. No. 8 Minnesota (25-25)

* Season series: Tied, 2-2.

* Offense: San Antonio 92.8 (13th), Minnesota 92.9 (11th).

* Defense: San Antonio 84.7 (third), Minnesota 92.6 (16th).

* Key stat: The Timberwolves were 12-6 with Stephon Marbury, 13-19 after the trade.

* Schedule: Game 1--Sunday at San Antonio, noon; Game 2--Tuesday at San Antonio, 5 p.m.; Game 3--Thursday at Minnesota, 4 p.m.; Game 4--May 15 at Minnesota, TBA*; Game 5--May 17 at San Antonio, TBA*; * if necessary.

* Outlook: The precocious Timberwolves are back, or some of them, anyway, Tom Gugliotta having left for Phoenix because he didn't like Marbury, after which Marbury forced a trade to New Jersey because he didn't like Minnesota. Given all the desertions, it's remarkable they were able to make it back for a second consecutive postseason appearance--not that they figure to stick around long. They're in against the hottest team in the league, the Spurs, who started 6-8 but finished 31-5. Minnesota was lucky enough to play the Spurs three times early when they were struggling, but those days are over.

* Prediction: Spurs, 3-0.


No. 2 Portland (35-15) vs. No. 7 Phoenix (27-23)

* Season series: Portland, 3-0.

* Offense: Portland 94.8 (fifth), Phoenix 95.6 (third)

* Defense: Portland 88.5 (10th), Phoenix 93.3 (19th).

* Key stat: The Trail Blazers outrebounded the Suns by an average of 16.3 a game.

* Schedule: Game 1--Saturday at Portland, noon; Game 2--Monday at Portland, 7:30 p.m.; Game 3--Wednesday at Phoenix, 6:30 p.m.; Game 4--May 14 at Phoenix, TBA*; Game 5--May 16 at Portland, TBA*;* if necessary.

* Outlook: The Trail Blazers were a major surprise, overcoming ego strife and a tenuous relationship with the Portland Police Dept. to run away with the Pacific Division title. The Suns were disappointments, having saved their cap room for years to find that once they spent it, they were ordinary. Even so, they could still do their trick, in which they spread the court and let Jason Kidd, who finally had the season everyone was waiting for, do something. However, the shooter who makes them truly dangerous, Rex Chapman, shot a dreadful 36%, four percentage points below his previous low. The Trail Blazers are too big, too strong and too deep.

* Prediction: Trail Blazers, 3-1.


No. 3 Utah (37-13) vs. No. 6 Sacramento (27-23)

* Season series: Utah, 2-1.

* Offense: Utah 93.3 (ninth), Sacramento 100.2 (first).

* Defense: Utah 86.8 (fifth), Sacramento 100.6 (29th).

* Key stat: Vlade Divac is the Kings' only starter who has been in a winning playoff game.

* Schedule: Game 1--Saturday at Utah, 2:30 p.m.; Game 2--Monday at Utah, 6:30 p.m.; Game 3--Wednesday at Sacramento, 7:30 p.m.; Game 4--May 14 at Sacramento, TBA*; Game 5--May 16 at Utah, TBA*; * if necessary.

* Outlook: With the spectacular Jason Williams and three more starters who can really pass--Divac, Chris Webber and Corliss Williamson--the Kings emerged from their murky history to become the NBA's new fun team, appearing nightly on all the highlight shows, seeming to spend as much time trying to think up new high-wire tricks. The Jazz, of course, has a lot of bulky, plodding guys who are very good at little things, like defense, stuff the young Kings may not get to for years. Of course, the Kings are about to get an object lesson of what all those unglamorous virtues are worth. Utah has been a finalist the past two seasons and this might be its last legitimate shot at winning it all.

* Prediction: Jazz, 3-0.


No. 4 Lakers (31-19) vs. No. 5 Houston (31-19)

* Season series: Lakers, 2-1.

* Offense: Lakers 98.3 (second), Houston 94.2 (seventh).

* Defense: Lakers 96 (25th), Houston 91.9 (15th).

* Key stat: Shaquille O'Neal outscored Hakeem Olajuwon, 71-47, and outrebounded him, 33-23.

* Schedule: Game 1--Sunday at Forum, 2:30 p.m.; Game 2--Tuesday at Forum, 7:30 p.m.; Game 3--Thursday at Houston, 6:30 p.m.; Game 4--May 15 at Houston, TBA*; Game 5--May 17 at Forum, TBA*; * if necessary.

* Outlook: The Lakers had a painful season, but the Rockets had disappointments of their own. Houston isn't much better on defense, is even more inexperienced in the backcourt and was even shakier down the stretch. Now that the schedule won't be wearing them down and boredom won't be a factor, the real Rockets should show up. Hakeem can't stop Shaq but can hope to contain him. Charles Barkley, who averaged 16 points against the NBA but 22 against the Lakers, will beat on their makeshift power forwards. The Lakers are fragile so if they lose either of those first two at home, look out.

* Prediction: Lakers, 3-2.

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