Western wear

Steve Kerr

More Kerr – Eastern Conference preseason rankings

The Mavericks are the defending Western Conference champions, and they have to feel good about finally dethroning their nemesis – San Antonio.

But after blowing a 2-0 Finals lead – and a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead over Miami in Game 3 – the Mavs have plenty to ponder as they enter this season. Did they blow their best chance at a ring? Because making it back to the Finals isn't going to be easy.

The Spurs will be as strong as ever, the Suns and Clippers are poised for a breakthrough, and a host of talented teams throughout the West figure to give Dallas all it can handle in the regular season. In fact, it's easy to make the case that 14 of the conference's 15 teams are good enough to make the playoffs. (Sorry Portland.)

With that in mind, the Mavericks may suffer from an early season hangover as they take on their daunting task. Still, Dallas won the West a year ago with a terrific playoff run and beat the Spurs in San Antonio in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. That alone earns the Mavs the No. 1 spot.


1. Dallas Mavericks – Avery Johnson instilled a defensive mindset that his team desperately needed. The Mavs' depth and versatility and the brilliant play of Dirk Nowitzki gives them a great chance to get back to the Finals.

San Antonio

2. San Antonio SpursTim Duncan should be much healthier than last season when he struggled with a foot injury. The Spurs usually bounce back strongly from playoff defeats, and this year should be no exception.


3. Phoenix Suns – Can Amare Stoudemire return to his once-dominant self? If not, Steve Nash will have a big load on his shoulders. Again.

L.A. Clippers

4. Los Angeles ClippersElton Brand became a full-fledged star last season. He headlines one of the most talented teams in the league.

L.A. Lakers

5. Los Angeles Lakers – Does Kobe Bryant have enough help? Vladimir Radmanovic will shoot the ball well, but he needs to rebound to help solve L.A.'s interior woes.


6. Minnesota TimberwolvesRandy Foye and Mike James will add some much needed fire to the Wolves. They could be just what Kevin Garnett needs to help turn around this team's fortunes.


7. Sacramento Kings – Eric Musselman replaces Rick Adelman, and he'll place more emphasis on defense. The Kings will have to replace Bonzi Wells' offense, though.


8. Houston Rockets – Will the Big Two stay healthy? Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady have more help, but it always comes down to their physical status.

New Orleans

9. New Orleans Hornets – An offseason spending spree has Hornets fans buzzing (sorry). Chris Paul will lead an explosive attack.


10. Utah Jazz – The Jazz are slowly building a nice foundation, but Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko must stay healthy.


11. Denver Nuggets – This team was a mess by the end of last season, and George Karl has some issues to deal with. But Carmelo Anthony's performance for Team USA at the world championships bodes well for the Nuggets.


12. Memphis GrizzliesPau Gasol's injury changes everything because the Grizzlies run everything through him. They'll have to survive the first few months of the season without him, but by then, it could be too late.

Golden State

13. Golden State Warriors – Don Nelson is back and Bay Area fans are pumped. But Nellie will have to work some magic because the Warriors' roster hasn't changed from last season's 34-win team.


14. Seattle SuperSonics – The real question isn't whether the Sonics will make the playoffs. It's whether they'll stay in Seattle.


15. Portland Trail BlazersBrandon Roy is a nice-looking rookie, but he's joining the worst team in the West. The Blazers are still in the dreaded "rebuilding" mode.