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Mark Heisler's NBA Western Conference preview

Andrew Bynum is the key to the Lakers' continued dominance of the conference.

October 25, 2009|Mark Heisler

In predicted order of finish

1. Lakers

2008-09 record: 65-17, No. 1 in West.

New: Ron Artest.

Gone: Trevor Ariza.

It's nice when champions get even stronger, not to mention good timing. With rivals regrouping, they won't win the West by 11 games again. I don't even expect them to win 65 again. Ariza fit effortlessly and Artest is Artest, but the key is Andrew Bynum, lost last spring, relocated this fall. If Bynum gets over the hump, they're still the best thing going.

2. Portland

2008-09 record: 54-28, No. 2 (tie).

New: Andre Miller, Juwan Howard.

Gone: Channing Frye.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 27, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Western Conference preview: In Sunday's Sports section, the Western Conference preview for the NBA season said the Utah Jazz was 48-24 last year. Utah was 48-34.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 01, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Western Conference preview: In the Oct. 25 Sports section, the Western Conference preview for the NBA season said the Utah Jazz was 48-24 last year. Utah was 48-34.

Like the Lakers, speculation revolves around their new player, Miller, but the real question is their young center. Greg Oden, a bust as a rookie, averaged 14 points and 9.7 rebounds in 22 minutes this preseason. With their own dynamic duo, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, a big move by Oden means a big future, maybe even now.

3. San Antonio

2008-09 record: 54-28, No. 2 (tie).

New: Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff, Keith Bogans, second-round pick DeJuan Blair.

Gone: Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas, Drew Gooden, Ime Udoka.

The team that won four titles from 1999 to 2007 limped through the last two seasons before the crowning indignity, last spring's 4-1 first-round loss to Dallas. Missing the player they wanted, Rasheed Wallace, who went to Boston, the Spurs still found long-sought replacements. If they're not The Spurs they are still capable of moving back up, if not all the way to a title, enough to let the Lakers know they're still around.

4. Denver

2008-09 record: 54-28, No. 2 (tie).

New: No. 1 pick Ty Lawson, Joey Graham, Arron Afflalo.

Gone: Dahntay Jones, Linas Kleiza.

No one expected the Nuggets to do what they did . . . and few expect them to do it again. Stability remains an issue with Coach George Karl dangling on the last year of his deal, amid the usual front-office infighting. Nevertheless, with Chauncey Billups chilling out J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin and helping Carmelo Anthony grow up, they're good too.

5. Utah

2008-09 record: 48-24, No. 8.

New: No. 1 pick Eric Maynor.

Gone: No one of note.

With Carlos Boozer out 45 games and Deron Williams averaging 9.8 points in November on a bad ankle, they were still on a 50-win pace until finishing 2-7 to fall into the Lakers' lap in the first round last spring. In a surprise, Boozer wasn't traded to unload his salary. With everyone back, they're still young, tough, deep and ready to go back where they belong.

6. Dallas

2008-09 record: 50-32, No. 6.

New: Shawn Marion.

Gone: Devean George

Dear guys, keep it close while I think of something. Your pal, Mark Cuban. After a 2-7 start, they finished 48-25 under underrated Coach Rick Carlisle and upended the Spurs in the first round. With Dirk Nowitzki fond of Cuban and looking for reasons to stay, they gave Jason Kidd, 36, a three-year deal and acquired Marion. That should keep them up there, if not too far.

7. Phoenix

2008-09 record: 46-36, No. 9.

New: Channing Frye.

Gone: Shaquille O'Neal.

Sometimes you add by subtraction, as Branch Rickey said, and they did, unloading O'Neal . . . whom they, alone, had thought could fit in the first place. They're back to Suns ball under former Mike D'Antoni assistant Alvin Gentry. Amare Stoudemire's expiring contract may become an issue, but no one could guard Stoudemire and Steve Nash before and it won't be much easier now.

8. New Orleans

2008-09 record: 49-33, No. 7.

New: Emeka Okafor, Bobby Brown, Ike Diogu, No. 1 pick Darren Collison, Darius Songaila.

Gone: Tyson Chandler, Rasual Butler, Antonio Daniels, Melvin Ely.

Comers no longer, they dropped five places in the West. Bumbling owner George Shinn has until 2012 before Chris Paul's deal is up. Okafor will help, but they're still thin and small. Management is already grumbling about 2008 coach of the year Byron Scott, on the last year of his contract with no extension forthcoming, so at least they have a scapegoat ready.

9. Clippers

2008-09 record: 19-63, No. 14.

New: No. 1 pick Blake Griffin, Sebastian Telfair, Rasual Butler.

Gone: Zach Randolph, Mike Taylor.

After three progressively worse seasons, capped by 2008-09's mail-in, there are few, indeed, who think they won't mess this up too. This one will really take some work. With Baron Davis bent on reclaiming his name, two 7-footers and wunderkinder Griffin and Eric Gordon, this almost has to work, whether now or in the future, with or without Davis and/or Mike Dunleavy.

10. Houston

2008-09 record: 53-29, No. 5.

New: Trevor Ariza, David Andersen, Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

Gone: Ron Artest, Brent Barry.

At least they don't have to worry about the health of their Big Two now. Yao Ming is already gone for the season and Tracy McGrady is years beyond making a difference. They're still tough when reduced to their role players, as the Lakers learned in last spring's seven-game series, but it won't do over the long haul.

11. Oklahoma City

2008-09 record: 23-59, No. 13.

New: Etan Thomas, Serge Ibaka, No. 1 pick James Harden.

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