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Western Conference Preview

November 01, 2005|MARK HEISLER

In predicted order of finish by MARK HEISLER

1. SAN ANTONIO

* 2004-05 record: 59-23, 2nd in West.

* Offense: 96.2 (18).

* Defense: 88.4 (1).

* Going: Glenn Robinson, Devin Brown, Linton Johnson.

* Coming: Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel, Fabricio Oberto.

* Starters: G Tony Parker (16.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 6.1 apg), G Manu Ginobili (16.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg), F Bruce Bowen (8.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 apg), F Tim Duncan (20.3 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg), C Nazr Mohammed (9.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.4 apg).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 04, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro basketball -- The NBA Western Conference preview in Tuesday's Sports section said the Clippers finished last season with a record of 50-32 and were sixth in the West. The Clippers finished 37-45 and were 10th in the West.

* Outlook: This is still Duncan's team, but it's less so all the time, which is a good thing because there's less of him. At 29, he's in his ninth season and he averaged at least 38 minutes a game in the first seven. Coach Gregg Popovich tried to ease him through last season, coming off an Olympic summer, but Duncan went down in April. He struggled through the playoffs, pulling the Spurs through in the end but averaging only 21 points and shooting 41% against single coverage by Detroit. Happily for the Spurs, Ginobili gave them the second star Parker is still trying to become. Popovich, also team president, keeps bringing in new role players. The latest are Finley and Van Exel, who will be reserves, which means the team will be even deeper. "I'm happy to see them here, myself," annual playoff hero Robert Horry said. "Less work for me."

* Comment: Now Duncan could take the regular season off too.

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2. HOUSTON ROCKETS

* 2004-05 record: 51-31, 5th in West.

* Offense: 95.1 (20).

* Defense: 91.0 (3).

* Going: Mike James, Clarence Weatherspoon, Scott Padgett.

* Coming: Stromile Swift, Derek Anderson, Rafer Alston, No. 1 pick Luther Head.

* Starters: G Alston (14.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6.4 apg), G Anderson (9.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.0 apg), F Tracy McGrady (25.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.7 apg), F Swift (10.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg), C Yao Ming (18.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg).

* Outlook: Guess how many Rockets remain from third-year Coach Jeff Van Gundy's first team? Right, the big one from China. After two years building around Yao, the Rockets ripped up their team again to get McGrady. Now everyone else who was here when Van Gundy arrived -- Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Eddie Griffin, James Posey, Kelvin Cato, et al. -- is gone. The backcourt remains a problem with Bobby Sura out, but it's getting better. A year ago, they were starting Charlie Ward and Jim Jackson. Now it's David Wesley, Anderson, Alston and the promising Head. Rebuilding on the fly, they started 6-11 last season but finished 45-20. Whatever they have, the dour Van Gundywill get out of them.

* Comment: Yao isn't Shaquille O'Neal but he's still tracking up, from 13.5 points to 17.5 to 18.3. If he keeps it up, they'll go with him.

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3. DENVER

* 2004-05 record: 49-33, 7th in West.

* Offense: 99.5 (8).

* Defense: 97.5 (17).

* Going: No one of note.

* Coming: Earl Watson.

* Starters: G Andre Miller (13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 6.9 apg), G Voshon Lenard (9.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg), F Carmelo Anthony (20.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.6 apg), F Kenyon Martin (15.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg), C Marcus Camby (10.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.0 bpg).

* Outlook: After George Karl's players in Milwaukee stopped listening to him and his 2004 U.S. Olympians embarrassed the nation, who remembered that he had ever been a good coach? After leaving the Bucks, Karl was out of work for a year and a half before being offered another job. When one opened up, it was in Denver, where the Nuggets had started 17-25, having already gone through coaches Jeff Bzdelik and Michael Cooper by January. Karl proceeded to finish 32-8, with a scorching fastbreak that left opponents sucking the thin mile-high air, just like in the old days. He did it with Anthony in a sophomore slump after his hat size doubled or tripled and Martin struggling, getting big contributions from players such as Camby (11 points a game, 11 rebounds, 3.8 blocks after the All-Star break), Earl Boykins and DerMarr Johnson.

* Comment: Anthony looks trim and with the program. If he grows up just a tad, the best is yet to come.

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4. DALLAS

* 2004-05 record: 58-24, 4th in West.

* Offense: 102.5 (3).

* Defense: 96.8 (14).

* Going: Michael Finley, Alan Henderson.

* Coming: Doug Christie, DeSagana Diop.

* Starters: G Jason Terry (12.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 5.4 apg), G Christie (6.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.8 apg), F Josh Howard (12.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 apg), F Dirk Nowitzki (26.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.1 apg), C Erick Dampier (9.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg).

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