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West Capsules In Predicted Order Of Finish

October 28, 2002|Mark Heisler

LAKERS

2001-02 record: 58-24, third.

Offense: 101.3 (3) Defense: 94.1 (9, tie).

Gone: Lindsey Hunter, Mitch Richmond, Jelani McCoy.

Arriving: No. 1 pick Kareem Rush, Tracy Murray.

Outlook: The only questions these days are Shaquille O'Neal's health, weight and state of mind. Last season, he was hurt, overweight and didn't get his head straight until the middle of the West finals. After that, he devoured all comers. His feet remain a concern, sidelining him and all but ruling out a fast start, but happily for the Lakers, he looks trimmer and happier. The challenge isn't as much actual as spiritual: They have to show they can still bring it for an entire season. After they routed the Spurs in the 2001 West finals, the Lakers pooh-poohed the importance of home-court advantage until seeing how much fun it was to play Game 7 in Sacramento.

Prediction: They'll struggle without O'Neal but look for an earlier wakeup call, by about six months.

*

SACRAMENTO KINGS

2001-02 record: 61-21, first.

Offense: 104.6 (2) Defense: 97.0 (19).

Gone: No one of note.

Arriving: Keon Clark.

Outlook: Not that their ascent has left them dizzy but ... 70 wins? That's what Mike Bibby predicted -- not long before hurting his right foot and having the surgery that will keep him out until December. Yes, talking trash has it perils and is best left to the Lakers, who have more practice. Bibby's amazing rise last spring, after four merely nice seasons, means they're full-fledged rivals, no longer limited by Chris Webber's weaknesses. Nevertheless, there's still a difference, however diminished, between the Kings, who have depth, and the Lakers, who have superstars. The 6-11 Clark was another nice pickup by General Manager Geoff Petrie but at 225 pounds, Clark will join the gang helping out on Shaq, rather than play him one-on-one.

Prediction: On the other hand, as the Lakers learned just in time, the Lakers' B game won't do any more.

*

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

2001-02 record: 58-24, second.

Offense: 96.7 (10). Defense: 90.5 (3).

Gone: Antonio Daniels, Terry Porter, Charles Smith, Cherokee Parks.

Arriving: Emanuel Ginobili, Speedy Claxton, Kevin Willis, Steve Kerr, Erick Barkley, Mengke Bateer.

Outlook: David Robinson will retire after this season, officially, although some say he did that three years ago. The Admiral had been getting off to ever slower starts in his tricky new role as Tim Duncan's helper. Nevertheless, Robinson would come on in the stretch. If he hadn't hurt his back last spring, these battlers, who scared the Lakers, would have been even more trouble. But the team is still in transition, with 20-year-old point guard Tony Parker alongside this year's hope, Argentine shooting guard Manu (the Man) Ginobili, who was a star in Italy. By the time their backcourt is ready, Robinson may be retired in fact, as well as theory.

Prediction: They have as much talent as anyone, but much of it just got there or is on its way out.

*

DALLAS MAVERICKS

2001-02 record: 57-25, fourth.

Offense: 105.2 (1). Defense: 101.0 (28).

Gone: Greg Buckner.

Arriving: Popeye Jones, Raja Bell.

Outlook: People wondered if they were real or just real entertaining until Sacramento exposed them in a 4-1 second-round termination. The Mavericks weren't big enough. Even wunderkind Dirk Nowitzki turned out to have holes in his high-scoring game. It's unfair to critique his defense since none of them play any. By the Mavericks' own reckoning, of the Kings' 207 field goals, an astounding/depressing 115 were on layups or dunks, including two unchallenged drives to the hoop by the pint-sized Mike Bibby that tied the pivotal Game 4 in regulation and won it in overtime. On the positive side, it's fun watching owner Mark Cuban, who rode Coach Don Nelson's coattails this far, thrash around.

Prediction: Now they say the answer is ... Shawn Bradley? Unless they do a mind meld on him, they'd better come up with something better than that.

*

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

2001-02 record: 49-33, sixth.

Offense: 96.6 (11). Defense: 93.7 (8).

Gone: Shawn Kemp, Steve Kerr, Erick Barkley.

Arriving: Arvydas Sabonis, Antonio Daniels, Jeff McInnis, Charles Smith, No. 1 pick Qyntel Woods.

Outlook: Sabonis' retirement turned them from a big, deep team to an ordinary-size one, but he's back. Unfortunately, Sabonis is about to turn 38 and lost his mobility when his Achilles' tendons went -- in his early 20s -- so let's not pencil them back in at their old level. Adding to Coach Maurice Cheeks' challenges, General Manager Bob Whitsitt created another logjam at point, adding McInnis and Daniels to Damon Stoudamire, to go with their excess bodies at the big guard and small forward positions.

Prediction: They're still a long night's work, assuming Cheeks can keep them from killing each other.

*

UTAH JAZZ

2001-02 record: 44-38, eighth.

Offense: 96.0 (14). Defense: 95.1 (13).

Gone: Bryon Russell, Donyell Marshall.

Arriving: Matt Harpring, Mark Jackson, Calbert Cheaney.

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