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Nuggets lacking veterans, vowels

Oct 29, 2002 3:50 AM

   The NBA season opens Tuesday night with three games, including the three-time world champion Lakers facing San Antonio in Los Angeles. Last week I looked at the Eastern Conference, this week it’s the best and worst in the West.

   #14 Denver: The Nuggets were 20-21 SU at home (22-18 ATS) and 7-34 SU (18-21 ATS) on the road. The Nuggets shipped Antonio McDyess to the Knicks for Marcus Camby after dealing last year for Raef LaFrentz and Nick Van Exel. The Nuggets have five rookies in guards Junior Harrington, Predrag Savovic and Vincent Yarbrough and lottery picks Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Nene Hilario. Three others have only one year of NBA experience. First-year coach Jeff Bzdelik will absorb a lot of losing.

   #13 Golden State: The Warriors have a nice young nucleus for the future, but not this year. Power forward Antawn Jamison (19 ppg, 6.8 rpg) teams with Jason Richardson and rookie Mike Dunleavy. Second-year guard Gilbert Arenas will be given a shot at handling the ball. New coach Eric Musselman will have to blend the kids with veteran rebounder Danny Fortson and second-year F Troy Murphy, the golden boy from Notre Dame. Weak defense resulted in an (18-23 ATS) mark both at home and away.

   #12 Memphis: The Grizzlies are slowly improving. The frontcourt is young but talented in 7-footer Pau Gasol (17.6 ppg), Lorenzen Wright (12 ppg), Stromile Swift and rookie Drew Gooden from Kansas. The backcourt has erratic Jason Williams (38% shooter, 14.8 ppg) along with Shane Battier (14.8 ppg). There's depth with Michael Dickerson, Will Solomon (from Clemson) and Brevin Knight. With the best GM in the game (Jerry West), the future may be bright.

   #11 Portland: The Blazers have a nice young backcourt and a tall, aging frontcourt. Derek Anderson and free agent Bonzi Wells combine with Damon Stoudamire to provide outstanding backcourt depth. The frontcourt, led by Rasheed Wallace (19 ppg, 8 rpg), workhorse Dale Davis (8.8 rpg) and 37-year-old Scottie Pippen (10 ppg, 5 rpg, 5.5 apg.) lacks depth. The Blazers were good at home (23-17-2 ATS) but packed it in on the road (18-23-1 ATS). Signs point to a slow decline.

   #10 Utah: With John Stockton and Karl Malone back for another year, the Jazz are above average but not up to the teams that reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and ’98. Matt Harpring and Calbert Cheaney provide depth and several young players will be interesting to watch. Russian forward Andrei Kirilenko (All-Rookie First Team) has the potential for a breakout season while Jarron Collins and Curtis Borchardt will be asked to play defense and rebound.

   #9 Seattle: All-Star guard Gary Payton does it all (22 ppg, 9 apg, 4.8 rpg) and 23-year old Rashard Lewis, a finesse 6-foot-10 forward, is a gifted young talent (16.7 ppg 7 rpg). Seattle dealt unhappy Vin Baker to the Celtics for Kenny Anderson, Joseph Forte and Vitaly Potapenko. The Sonics hope 6-foot-11 Calvin Booth and 6-foot-10 projects Predrag Drobnjak and Vladimir Radmanovic will produce. Coach Nate McMillan is very good and the Sonics were (49-38 ATS including 26-18 on the road).

   #8 Phoenix: The backcourt is strong and will be productive if the bickering stops. Stephon Marbury (20 ppg, 9 apg) and Penny Hardaway (12 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.1 apg) are a great 1-2 backcourt punch. Joe Johnson was grabbed in a trade and averaged 9.6 points, 4.1 rebounds per game. The Suns retained 6-foot-7 Shawn Marion, a workhorse who led Phoenix with 19 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Phoenis hopes a long-awaited center comes from rookie Amare Stoudemire or third-year center Jake Tsakalidis. The Suns flamed out (6-14 ATS) down the stretch and, if they struggle, tempers may again flare.

   #7 Minnesota: The T-Wolves may have peaked, finishing a disappointing (37-47-1 ATS). Kevin Garnett (21.2 ppg, 12.1 rpg) is as good as any NBA forward but after Wally Szczerbiak the supporting cast is thin. Underachieving Joe Smith (10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is still aboard along with often-injured guard Terrell Brandon. The Wolves added Kendall Gill and Troy Hudson and hope second-year center Loren Woods develops. Minnesota has leveled off, which is bad news in the talented West.

   #6 L.A. Clippers: A young, athletic team that could make some waves. Lamar Odom (13 ppg), who played in only 29 games, teams with another 23-year-old talent Elton Brand (18 ppg, 11.6 rpg). Center Michael Olowokandi is a good role player (11 ppg, 8.9 rpg). The addition of Andre Miller (16.5 ppg, 10.9 apg) from Cleveland strengthened the backcourt. The Clippers excelled at home (25-16 SU, 21-18 ATS) compared to the road (14-27 SU, 16-23 ATS). No more excuses. The Clips either make the playoffs or be dismantled as colossal underachievers.

   #5 Houston: Injuries have devastated the Rockets the last two years, but the franchise is looking forward to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. Yao Ming, the 7-foot-5 center from China, was the No. 1 pick in the draft. Ming arrives a question mark, but there is plenty of talent around to ease him into the flow. Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis combine for the best backcourt in the West, and role players Eddie Griffin and Maurice Taylor. Glen Rice (remember him?) is a wild card off the bench. Rudy Tomjanovich is an elite coach and should have some fun this season.

   #4 San Antonio: The Tim Duncan/David Robinson duo ends this season. The Spurs won the NBA title in 1999 and could again, with some breaks. Argentinean guard Emanuel Ginobili, a 6-foot-6 scorer, is being counted on with fleet point guard Tony Parker to take some offensive heat off the big guys. Small forward Bruce Bowen is a terrific defensive player and forms good depth with Malik Rose and Danny Ferry. The Spurs play their best defense at home (26-20 UNDER the total), but must improve from a poor (3-8 ATS) record as a road dog.

   #3 Dallas: Who wouldn’t want a giant frontline of Raef LaFrentz, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Bradley and Popeye Jones? Even the backcourt has height with Michael Finley and Steve Nash. The Mavericks can run-and-gun with the best, averaged 105 points per game. Defense is the concern. There is none. If the Mavs are to go deeper into the playoffs, coach Don Nelson needs to teach the value of ”˜D’. The OVER was 56-34, including 30-15 on the road.

   #2 L.A. Lakers: What’s not to like? Jerry West has since left to be the GM in Memphis, but he built this talented team. Shaq, the dominant player in the game at 30, should again be a force. O’Neal had toe surgery and will miss at least the first few weeks of the season. Kobe Bryant, 24, comes off a season where he did everything well (25 ppg, 5.5 rpr, 5.5 apg). Coach Phil Jackson, a defensive and motivational genius, could make it four straight titles. The Lakers played their best defense at home (91 ppg allowed). The UNDER was 31-20 at Staples Center.

   #1 Sacramento: The Kings, and many NBA fans, feel they should have beaten out the Lakers last season. Sacramento isn’t short on talent with Chris Webber (24.5 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.8 apg), Vlade Divac, guard Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic (21 ppg). The organization is top-notch when it comes to evaluating and drafting players, particularly overseas prospects. Turkish star Hidayet Turkoglu is a strong shooter and fits in well. Coach Rick Adelman is a defensive tactician. The Kings were (58-40 ATS, including 32-18 ATS) at home.