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Western Conference

Midwest Division

Houston Rockets

Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich (129-65, fourth year).

1993-94 record: 58-24, first in Midwest. Beat New York 4-3 to win NBA championship.

Will win division if: No one grows complacent after winning one title and, like the Knicks, if standing pat is enough in arguably the toughest division in the league.

Comments: When you start with center Hakeem Olajuwon, the league and championship series MVP, you've got to be considered a favorite to go far. Power forward Otis Thorpe is one of the best and the ideal complement to Olajuwon. Guard Vernon Maxwell is an erratic shooter, but when he's hot, look out. He also has a penchant for hitting big shots and is a tenacious defender. Point guard Sam Cassell, in just his second year, seems poised to be a star.

Denver Nuggets

Coach: Dan Issel (78-86, third year).

1993-94 record: 42-40, fourth in Midwest. Lost 4-3 to Utah in conference semifinals.

Will win division if: They build upon last year's shocking playoff run, in which they upset top seed Seattle and then nearly overcame a 3-0 deficit to Utah, and if rookie Jalen Rose excels at the point.

Comments: The Nuggets' forte is defense, anchored by center Dikembe Mutombo. Power forward LaPhonso Ellis is the most consistent scorer, but he's injured and must return soon, despite quality depth. Rose has been impressive and might allow Issel to move Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to the off-guard. Forwards Reggie Williams and Rodney Rogers and point guard Robert Pack are solid role players.

San Antonio Spurs

Coach: Bob Hill (first year with San Antonio; 133-154 overall).

1993-94 record: 55-27, second in Midwest. Lost 3-1 to Utah in first round of playoffs.

Will win division if: Center David Robinson repeats his MVP-like numbers, coach Hill and unpredictable power forward Dennis Rodman can co-exist and if point guard Avery Johnson can run the show.

Comments: Robinson, who nipped Shaquille O'Neal for the league scoring title, makes this team a contender, but if Rodman is a no-show too often, Robinson will have to do all the rebounding. Still, the return of forward Sean Elliott and the signing of free-agent forward Chuck Person should relieve some of the offensive pressure from the Admiral.

Utah Jazz

Coach: Jerry Sloan (304-171, seventh year with Utah; 398-292 overall).

1993-94 record: 53-29, third in Midwest. Lost 4-1 to Houston in conference finals.

Will make playoffs if: Power forward Karl Malone and point guard John Stockton, perhaps the best big-man, little-man combination in the league, keep going and going and going.

Comments: The Jazz continue to play the same tune _ Stockton to Malone for a power move, Malone back out to Stockton for a jumper. Guard Jeff Hornacek is another proven scorer, but center Felton Spencer should be overmatched by just about everyone in the division.

Dallas Mavericks

Coach: Dick Motta (first year in second stint with Dallas, 267-307 in seven years; 856-863 overall).

1993-94 record: 13-69, sixth in Midwest. Did not make playoffs.

Will win 35 games if: Top pick Jason Kidd is the play-making guard most experts think he is and if center Roy Tarpley, recently reinstated by the league after being banned in 1991 for drug and alcohol problems, can recapture his old form.

Comments: The Mavs won't have a worst-to-first turnaround, but this team is loaded with young, promising talent, beginning with guard Jim Jackson, forward Jamal Mashburn, Kidd, center Sean Rooks, power forward Popeye Jones and unheralded second-round pick, guard Tony Dumas.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Coach: Bill Blair (first year)

1993-94 record: 20-62, fifth in the Midwest. Did not make the playoffs.

Will avoid the divisional cellar if: Power forward Christian Laettner can become a leader and not a divisive force, forward Donyell Marshall is as good as advertised and if center Stacey King can prove he's a capable starter in the league.

Comments: Laettner, sharpshooting guard Isaiah Rider, last year's top pick, and Marshall give the team a promising foundation, but only once in franchise history has the team not lost 60 games.

Pacific Division

Phoenix Suns

Coach: Paul Westphal (118-46, third year).

1993-94 record: 56-26, second in Pacific. Lost 4-3 to Houston in conference semifinals.

Will win division if: Forward Charles Barkley's back holds up and if the team's enormous offensive firepower compensates for its porous defense and lack of a center.

Comments: With just Barkley and point guard Kevin Johnson, this would be a team to be reckoned with. But the Suns acquired forwards Danny Manning and Wayman Tisdale, who may be pressed into playing center as he did in Sacramento; they've averaged 19 and 17 points a game during their careers. Their presence means the Suns can bring forward A.C. Green, guard Danny Ainge and perhaps Tisdale off the bench.

Seattle SuperSonics

Coach: George Karl (145-61, fourth year with Seattle; 264-237 overall).

1993-94 record: 63-19, first in Pacific. Lost 3-2 to Denver in first round of playoffs.

Will win division if: Power forward Shawn Kemp, who appeared headed to Chicago for Scottie Pippen on draft day, and point guard Gary Payton show the maturity and day-in and day-out intensity necessary to truly lead the team.

Comments: The SuperSonics' defense carried them to the best regular-season record in the NBA and it should be just as tenacious this year. Look for forward Detlef Schrempf's assist total to go way up. But a key for post-season success will rest with the outside game, which was a weakness last season. Guard Kendall Gill must improve and newly acquired guard Sarunas Marciulionis must stay healthy after missing much of the past two seasons.

Golden State Warriors

Coach: Don Nelson (263-229, seventh year with Golden State; 803-573 overall).

1993-94 record: 50-32, third in Pacific. Lost 3-0 to Phoenix in first round of playoffs.

Will win division if: Point guard Tim Hardaway, who missed last season with a knee injury, can stay healthy and Chris Webber, last season's rookie of the year, signs and doesn't sulk about playing center instead of power forward.

Comments: The Warriors, even without Hardaway and Sarunas Marciulionis all season, were the NBA's most improved team. How much better can they be with Hardaway? Probably quite a bit if no other starter is lost. They didn't help themselves in the draft, at least in the short term, as Clifford Rozier and Carlos Rogers both seem headed for Europe. Desperate for help at center, they recently signed journeyman Manute Bol.

Portland Trail Blazers

Coach: P.J. Carlesimo (first year).

1993-94 record: 47-35, fourth in Pacific. Lost 3-1 to Houston in first round of playoffs.

Will make playoffs if: Guard Clyde Drexler can reverse the obvious slide in his stellar career, center Chris Dudley earns his big bucks and provides rebounding and blocked shots and if Carlesimo's enthusiasm works as well in the pros as it did in college.

Comments: This is a veteran team with forward Clifford Robinson and point guard Rod Strickland, both all-star caliber players; forward Harvey Grant, who's better than he showed last season; Drexler; and forwards Buck Williams and Jerome Kersey. Age, however, could be a factor as the season progresses.

Los Angeles Lakers

Coach: Del Harris (first year with L.A.; 332-341 overall).

1993-94 record: 33-49, fifth in Pacific. Did not make playoffs.

Will win 35 games if: Underachievers such as center Vlade Divac, power forward Elden Campbell, guard Anthony Peeler and forward George Lynch step up their play, point guard Nick Van Exel shoots better (or not as much) and if rookie swingman Eddie Jones gives the team the defensive stopper it's lacked since Michael Cooper.

Comments: For all the young, talented high draft picks, this team lacks what all winners have _ a star. Harris, who hasn't coached since early in the 1991-92 season, promises a team that will run more. In the tough West, don't look for the Lakers in the playoffs.

Sacramento Kings

Coach: Garry St. Jean (53-111, third year).

1993-94 record: 28-54, sixth in Pacific. Did not make playoffs.

Will win 35 games if: Guard Walt Williams realizes his potential, point guard Bobby Hurley comes back to supply assists, leadership and inspiration and if rookie power forward Brian Grant signs and can help ease the loss of Wayman Tisdale.

Comments: Guard Mitch Richmond is one of the league's best, but he might be the only legitimate scorer, especially with forward Lionel Simmons injured. Center Olden Polynice can rebound, but without Grant, the Kings will need free agents Frank Brickowski or Alaa Abdelnaby to score inside and help out on the boards.

Los Angeles Clippers

Coach: Bill Fitch (first year with L.A.; 845-877 overall).

1993-94 record: 27-55, seventh in Pacific. Did not make playoffs.

Will avoid worst record in NBA if: God is a Clippers' fan or if rookie swingmen Lamond Murray and Eric Piatkowski, both first-round picks, are the second coming.

Comments: Even Fitch admits that his team's top five, not counting Murray and Piatkowski and veteran power forward Loy Vaught, were backups last season. But maybe center Stanley Roberts will get in shape and maybe point guard Pooh Richardson will play like he did when he was a star at UCLA and maybe ... do you believe in miracles?

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Orlando Magic

Coach: Brian Hill (50-32, second year).

1993-94 record: 50-32, second in Atlantic. Lost 3-0 to Indiana in first round of playoffs.

Will win division if: Center Shaquille O'Neal and point guard Anfernee Hardaway improve as expected (they're both only 22) and if free-agent acquisitions Horace Grant, one of the league's best power forwards, and versatile guard Brian Shaw are indeed the missing pieces.

Comments: The Magic arguably has the best starting five in the conference, if not the league. Grant and Shaw, accustomed to playing full-court pressure defense, should help Orlando more at that end than the offensive end. Defense is the difference in the post-season. Last year, Indiana held the Magic to an average of 92 points a game, 14 below its season average.

New York Knicks

Coach: Pat Riley (168-78, fourth year with New York; 701-272 overall).

1993-94 record: 57-25, first in Atlantic. Lost 4-3 to Houston in NBA Finals.

Will win division if: Standing pat, except for rookies Monty Williams and Charlie Ward, neither of whom should be impact players this season, is enough to stave off younger clubs.

Comments: The Knicks did nothing to improve their poor perimeter game and will again live and die with defense and rebounding. That's not a problem when you start with center Patrick Ewing, power forward Charles Oakley, a healthy John Starks at guard and point guard Derek Harper. But the rule changes, especially limiting hand-checking, could take some of the teeth out of their vaunted defense.

New Jersey Nets

Coach: Butch Beard (first year).

1993-94 record: 45-37, third in Atlantic. Lost 3-1 to New York in first round of playoffs.

Will make playoffs if: First-round draft pick Yinka Dare isn't as much of a project as some think and if rookie head coach Beard, who didn't win 40 percent of his games at Howard University, proves a worthy gamble.

Comments: Derrick Coleman, who might be the best all-around power forward in the game when he's motivated, and electrifying point guard Kenny Anderson give the Nets a formidable 1-2 punch. But they need help if the team is to challenge the elite. The Nets still haven't replaced the offensive firepower of Drazen Petrovic, who died in a car crash before last season.

Miami Heat

Coach: Kevin Loughery (116-130, fourth year with Miami; 457-633 overall).

1993-94 record: 42-40, fourth in Atlantic. Lost 3-2 to Atlanta in first round of playoffs.

Will make playoffs if: Rookie point guard Khalid Reeves can in fact be a playmaker, something he didn't do the past three years at Arizona, and if injury-prone guard Steve Smith and center Rony Seikaly can stay healthy.

Comments: The Heat has talent with Smith, Seikaly and small forward Glen Rice, but injuries and an inability to swing a trade to put it over the top (failing to acquire Danny Manning, Derrick Coleman, Scottie Pippen or Clyde Drexler) has kept it a notch below in the Atlantic. The summer was one of discontent with the purchase of the team, trade rumors and then barbs from the players aimed at management for not keeping Brian Shaw.

Washington Bullets

Coach: Jim Lynam (first year with Washington; 246-264 overall).

1993-94 record: 24-58, seventh in Atlantic. Did not make playoffs.

Will win 35 games if: Center Kevin Duckworth can get in shape and regain his all-star form and if rookie Juwan Howard signs and can be an immediate defensive force in the low post.

Comments: The Bullets have talented forwards Tom Gugliotta and Don MacLean, the league's most improved player, to build around, but their defense was woeful (opponents shot 50.8 percent from the floor) and must improve for any marked improvement. Point guard Scott Skiles, obtained from Orlando, should be the floor leader the team has lacked.

Boston Celtics

Coach: Chris Ford (187-141, fifth year).

1993-94 record: 32-50, fifth in Atlantic. Did not make playoffs.

Will win 35 games if: At 34, prized free agent Dominique Wilkins can supply the offense, power forward Dino Radja can improve on a stellar rookie year and if what appears to be a center by committee _ Acie Earl, rookie Eric Montross and oft-injured Pervis Ellison _ can supply interior defense.

Comments: New basketball operations director M.L. Carr reshaped the roster, adding six new players. But this club, which is heading into a new building after the season, appears to be heading for more changes. Point guard Sherman Douglas and small forward Xavier McDaniel aren't happy and their attitudes prompted a players-only meeting after two preseason games.

Philadelphia 76ers

Coach: John Lucas (first year with Philadelphia; 94-49 overall).

1993-94 season: 25-57, sixth in Atlantic. Did not make playoffs.

Will avoid divisional cellar if: Lithe 7-6 center Shawn Bradley, who reinjured his left knee in preseason, can return and help defensively and if rookie point guard B.J. Tyler learns to think pass first.

Comments: On paper, at least before Bradley's injury, this team looked vastly improved. The draft brought Sharone Wright, arguably the best-available low-post player, and the lightning-quick Tyler and free agency brought power forward Scott Williams from Chicago. The biggest change, however, was the hiring of the energetic and popular John Lucas as coach/general manager. He worked wonders in San Antonio.

Central Division

Indiana Pacers

Coach: Larry Brown (47-35, second year with Indiana; 481-377 overall).

1993-94 record: 47-35, third in Central. Lost 4-3 to New York in conference finals.

Will win division if: They continue to play as unselfishly as a year ago when they came within five points of reaching the finals and if they don't wilt under championship expectations.

Comments: Guard Reggie Miller has proven he does more than talk a good game. He's arguably the finest shooter around. With Rik Smits, Dale Davis and Antonio Davis up front, the Pacers can control the paint against just about anyone. Brown then added two players he had with the Los Angeles Clippers, power forward John Williams, who's battling a weight problem but has a ton of ability, and point guard Mark Jackson to push his athletic group into more of an up-tempo style.

Chicago Bulls

Coach: Phil Jackson (295-115, sixth year).

1993-94 record: 55-27, second in Central. Lost 4-3 to New York in conference semifinals.

Will win division if: Forwards Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc can play together amicably, rookie power forward Dickey Simpkins can ease the loss of Horace Grant and Scott Williams, and if free-agent guard Ron Harper provides offense and defense.

Comments: The Bulls still have the individual talent to contend for a divisional title and make a run at the finals with Pippen and point guard B.J. Armstrong. But how this team will play together is a big question. Pippen, subject of trade rumors all summer, is the key. If he sets aside his ego and doesn't sulk, the Bulls could be tough by the playoffs.

Charlotte Hornets

Coach: Allan Bristow (116-130, fourth year).

1993-94 record: 41-41, fifth in Central. Did not make playoffs.

Will make playoffs if: They can ever get power forward Larry Johnson and center Alonzo Mourning healthy at the same time. Johnson, who missed 31 games last year with a bad back, is recovering from a foot sprain that was thought to be a stress fracture. Mourning missed 21 games with a leg injury and has been hobbled in preseason.

Comments: Johnson and Mourning aside, the Hornets seemingly improved their depth _ and playoff chances _ by adding point guard Michael Adams and 41-year-old center Robert Parish. Adams and a better-conditioned Hersey Hawkins at guard should mean more three-pointers; the team was sixth in the league last year. Parish might become the team leader.

Atlanta Hawks

Coach: Lenny Wilkens (57-25, second year with Atlanta; 926-774 overall).

1993-94 record: 57-25, first in Central. Lost 4-2 to Indiana in conference semifinals.

Will make playoffs if: The backcourt duo of Mookie Blaylock and Stacey Augmon can play even better pressure defense, which would be some task, and if Wilkens can find someone to score consistently other than power forward/center Kevin Willis.

Comments: Atlanta added the solid but unspectacular Ken Norman to replace Danny Manning at forward. Manning was obtained in a midseason trade for local institution Dominique Wilkins. The Hawks also lack perimeter scorers other than Blaylock, so the defense, which created the second most steals and turnovers in the league, will have to carry this team. With the 13th win, however, Wilkens will become the all-time leader, passing Red Auerbach.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Coach: Mike Fratello (47-35, second year with Cleveland; 371-285 overall).

1993-94 record: 47-35, third in Central. Lost 3-0 to Chicago in first round of playoffs.

Will finish .500 if: Center Brad Daugherty can come back from back problems and if the Cavs can replace guard Gerald Wilkins, who tore his right Achilles' tendon in preseason and is lost for the year.

Comments: Injuries to Daugherty, Larry Nance and John "Hot Rod" Williams essentially ended the Cavs season a year ago and injuries have dampened hopes again. But they could get into the playoffs. After all, Mark Price, still one of the best point guards, power forward Tyrone Hill, who's a physical presence inside, forward Chris Mills and point guard Terrell Brandon are healthy.

Detroit Pistons

Coach: Don Chaney (20-62, second year with Detroit; 237-328 overall).

1993-94 record: 20-62, sixth in Central. Did not make playoffs.

Will avoid divisional cellar if: Swingman Grant Hill lives up to the hype and puts up rookie-of-the-year numbers and if second-year point guard Lindsey Hunter passes more than he shoots and dribbles.

Comments: Hill has been impressive in preseason and arguably could have been the best all-around player in the draft and a steal at No. 3. Veteran guard Joe Dumars remains one of the NBA's best and power forward Terry Mills quietly had a spectacular season. This remains a young team, however, and still needs time _ and another lottery pick or two _ to contend.

Milwaukee Bucks

Coach: Mike Dunleavy (48-116, third year with Milwaukee; 149-179 overall).

1993-94 record: 20-62, sixth in Central. Did not make playoffs.

Will avoid divisional cellar if: Forward Glenn Robinson, the top pick overall, signs and can supply the points and rebounds that one might expect from someone who thinks he's worth $100-million.

Comments: Power forward Vin Baker, last year's top choice, emerged in the second half and point guard Eric Murdock, guard Todd Day and backup point guard Lee Mayberry all improved. But even with Robinson and promising rookie center Eric Mobley, this team, like Detroit, needs time and more high draft picks.