The Gazette's NBA season preview: West
The Utah Jazz finally kicked the monkey off their back and made it to the NBA finals last season. A preseason injury to John Stockton may slow the team for the first few months, but with his return, the duo of Stockton and Karl Malone will once again lead their team back to the West division title. The San Antonio Spurs are hoping lightning won't strike twice in two years after last season's injury circus. Since No.1 draft pick Tim Duncan moved into Mr. Robinson's neighbourhood, all signals point to a healthy and strong team that will challenge for the Midwest title. The playoff appearance by the Minnesota Timberwolves was no fluke last season and the hunger for respect will lead this team back for another appearance. With Kevin Garnett's contract dispute over, he will lead a dangerous squad of young guns, including Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta. Three future Hall of Famers, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler headline a powerful Houston Rockets roster. High on talent, this team should challenge for the division title most of the season, but watch for a performance drop off before the playoffs as the ol' legs give way. In Denver, former University of Minnesota point guard Bobby Jackson will be handed the Nuggets' steering wheel in hopes he won't drive off a winding mountain road to crash and burn in the bottom of the division. Dallas management lost patience with a long rebuilding process that was taking the Mavericks nowhere, so they have decided to wipe the slate clean and try again. In Vancouver, it should rain. Nothing else is noteworthy.
Los Angeles Lakers fans expected Shaq to walk into town last year and bring them a NBA title. Wrong. Loaded with a talented cast and a year under their belts, the time is now right for O'Neal and company to grab top spot in the Pacific division. After failing to bring home the NBA crown to the rainy city of Seattle, Shawn Kemp was shipped out of town and Vin Baker was brought in with hopes he can regroup the Supersonics' team in time to knock off the powerhouse Lakers. Phoenix is once again rising in Arizona, as one of the best back court in basketball with Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson and Canadian Steve Nash lead the Suns back to respectability and a shot at a playoff berth. After recently falling on hard times following two trips to the NBA finals earlier in the decade, Rasheed Wallace and the Portland Trailblazers will be once again pioneering a path no further than the first round of the playoffs. In California, the Clippers, Kings and Warriors might want to invest in some surfing lessons during the season so they will have something to do in May after they finish battling for the division cellar.