NBA 2009-10

DAN BILICKI

, Last Updated: 4:43 AM ET

PACIFIC DIVISION

Los Angeles

LAKERS

STARTING FIVE: PG Derek Fisher, SG Kobe Bryant, SF Ron Artest, PF Pau Gasol, C Andrew Bynum, Sixth man: Lamar Odom.

INSIDERS SAY: Bynum has made an effort to stay ahead of the ball on breaks and has been rewarded for it, averaging 22.3 points in the pre-season. If he can avoid another big injury, he could reach his potential this season.

BURNING QUESTION: Can the champions repeat? "Trading" Trevor Ariza for Artest was a lateral move at best and the miles on Bryant's odometer are rolling up fast. With more true contenders than last season, the Lakers have their work cut out for them.

LAST SEASON: 65-17, 1st in conference.

Phoenix

SUNS

Projection:

2nd division

7th in West

Starting five: PG Steve Nash, SG Jason Richardson, SF Grant Hill, PF Amare Stoudemire, C Channing Frye, Sixth man: Leandro Barbosa.

Insiders say: Richardson has embraced his coach's call for better defence. This was a big issue for Richardson, who will be matched up against premier SGs such as Kobe Bryant several times per season.

burning question: Was trading Shaq the right move? While O'Neal put up big numbers in the desert, he was unable to fit into the Suns' up-tempo style and weighed down many possessions.

Last season: 46-36, 9th in conference.

Los Angeles

CLIPPERS

Projection:

3rd division

11th in West

Starting five: PG Baron Davis, SG Eric Gordon, SF Al Thornton, PF Blake Griffin, C Chris Kaman, Sixth man: Marcus Camby.

Insiders say: Griffin was seen as the one can't-miss prospect of the draft and has lived up to the hype so far. He even has impressed on defensive rotations, something rookies usually struggle with.

burning question: Can the Clippers play like a team? There is a talented core developing here, but with the worst coach in the league, Mike Dunleavy, running the show, the Clippers are doomed.

Last season: 19-63, 14th in conference.

Golden State

WARRIORS

Projection: 4th division

12th in West

Starting five: PG Monta Ellis, SG Kelenna Azubuike, SF Stephen Jackson, PF Anthony Randolph, C Andris Biedrins, Sixth man: Stephen Curry.

Insiders say: SG Anthony Morrow has been the Warriors' most efficient scorer in the pre-season, but his defensive ineptitude could keep him off of the floor for extended stretches.

burning question: What's going on with Golden State? Jackson and Ellis both have asked for trades this off-season and both have issue with management. It will be a rough season in the Bay area.

Last season: 29-53, 10th in conference.

Sacramento

KINGS

Projection: 5th division

15th in West

Starting five: PG Tyreke Evans, SG Kevin Martin, SF Desmond Mason, PF Jason Thompson, C Spencer Hawes, Sixth man: Beno Udrih.

Insiders say: Thompson has showed that his slow start in Summer League was a fluke and has turned into a rebounding machine, pulling down 34 boards in his past two games.

burning question: Can Evans run the show as a rookie? He's not a true point guard but has great ability on the ball and can get to the rim while his size (6-foot-6) creates matchup problems for opposing defences.

Last season: 17-65, 15th in conference.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Portland

TRAIL BLAZERS

PROJECTION:

1ST DIVISION

2ND IN WEST

STARTING FIVE: PG Steve Blake, SG Brandon Roy, SF Nicolas Batum, PF Lamarcus Aldridge, C Greg Oden, Sixth man: Andre Miller.

INSIDERS SAY: The Blazers' top free agent acquisition already is upset with management. Miller wants to be the starting PG, but hasn't out-played incumbent Steve Blake in the pre-season and failed a conditioning test in camp.

BURNING QUESTION: Can the Blazers make the leap to true contender? There is a lot of potential in Portland but the Blazers will have to prove they can beat the top dogs before being endorsed for post-season success.

LAST SEASON: 54-28, 4th in conference.

Denver

NUGGETS

PROJECTION: 2ND DIVISION

4TH IN WEST

STARTING FIVE: PG Chauncey Billups, SG J.R. Smith, SF Carmelo Anthony, PF Kenyon Martin, C Nene, Sixth man: Chris Andersen.

INSIDERS SAY: Former Raptor Joey Graham has impressed George Karl so much that the coach has talked about putting him in the rotation during Smith's seven-game suspension to open the season.

BURNING QUESTION: Can the Nuggets repeat last season's success? Billups keyed this formerly dysfunctional team's turnaround and should keep this ship sailing straight.

LAST SEASON: 54-28, 2nd in conference.

Utah

JAZZ

PROJECTION:

3RD DIVISION

6TH IN WEST

STARTING FIVE: PG Deron Williams, SG Ronnie Brewer, SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF Carlos Boozer, C Mehmet Okur, Sixth man: Paul Millsap.

INSIDERS SAY: Utah is stressing improved defence and has tried out a zone scheme and playing Williams on the 2-guard during the pre-season.

BURNING QUESTION: What's going on with Carlos Boozer? After realizing he couldn't land a big-money deal in this economic situation, Boozer took his option and now will be playing in a "contract season" mentality -- only for himself.

LAST SEASON: 48-34, 8th in conference.

Oklahoma City

THUNDER

PROJECTION: 4TH DIVISION

9TH IN WEST

STARTING FIVE: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Jeff Green, C Nenad Krstic, Sixth man: James Harden.

INSIDERS SAY: After horrendously blowing out his knee two years ago, Shaun Livingston is back and has the inside track to Oklahoma City's backup PG spot.

BURNING QUESTION: Are the Thunder ready for the post-season? With a solid young core that keeps on improving while maturing, many pundits see a huge improvement coming from Oklahoma City.

LAST SEASON: 23-59, 13th in conference.

Minnesota

TIMBERWOLVES

PROJECTION: 5TH DIVISION

13TH IN WEST

STARTING FIVE: PG Jonny Flynn, SG Damien Wilkins, SF Ryan Gomes, PF Oleksiy Pecherov, C Al Jefferson, Sixth man: Ramon Sessions.

INSIDERS SAY: While GM David Kahn would like to see PGs Sessions and Flynn play together, coach Kurt Rambis wants nothing to do with it saying: "We looked at it a bit in practice. It didn't go."

BURNING QUESTION: How will the T-Wolves deal with Kevin Love's injury? For the first month or so of the season, Pecherov and Ryan Hollins will see significant minutes to try to make up for Love's absence on the boards.

LAST SEASON: 24-58, 11th in conference.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

San Antonio

SPURS

PROJECTION:

1ST DIVISION

3RD IN WEST

STARTING FIVE: PG Tony Parker, SG Roger Mason, SF Richard Jefferson, PF Tim Duncan, C Antonio McDyess, Sixth man: Manu Ginobili.

INSIDERS SAY: Spurs second-round pick DeJuan Blair has impressed during the pre-season and could play his way into the rotation.

BURNING QUESTION: Can Jefferson push the Spurs past the Lakers? The SF is a great addition to a great team, but winning in the playoffs will come down to the team's overall health, which has been an issue the past few seasons.

LAST SEASON: 54-28, 3rd in conference.

Dallas

MAVERICKS

Projection:

2nd division

5th in West

Starting five: PG Jason Kidd, SG Josh Howard, SF Shawn Marion, PF Dirk Nowitzki, C Erick Dampier, Sixth man: Jason Terry.

Insiders say: Nowitzki had his first summer off in a while and looked well rested and spry in the pre-season. He shot 63% from the field in four games.

burning question: Is Marion a good fit? While people may have written him off because he's now 30, The Matrix still has great athleticism and can run a great fast break with longtime friend Kidd.

Last season: 50-32, 6th in conference.

New Orleans

HORNETS

Projection:

3rd division

8th in West

Starting five: PG Chris Paul, SG James Posey, SF Julian Wright, PF David West, C Emeka Okafor, Sixth man: Peja Stojakovic.

Insiders say: Okafor's injury has greatly hindered the Hornets attempts to build chemistry in the pre-season. There are six new players and many have had trouble adapting to a new style of play.

burning question: Can the Hornets shake off a disappointing 2008-09 season? Owner George Shinn says this is the best team he has had in 20 years, but the reality is that they have a ways to go to be considered contenders.

Last season: 49-33, 7th in conference.

Houston

ROCKETS

Projection: 4th division

10th in West

Starting five: PG Aaron Brooks, SG Trevor Ariza, SF Shane Battier, PF Luis Scola, C David Andersen, Sixth man: Carl Landry.

Insiders say: While Tracy McGrady may say that he is feeling healthy after undergoing microfracture surgery in February, he still will continue to rehab his knee until late November and have another MRI done then.

burning question: After a strong playoff showing, can the Rockets play well without their injured/departed stars? Houston will try to simplify its offence, but missing Yao Ming, McGrady and Ron Artest puts the club behind the 8-ball.

Last season: 53-29, 5th in conference.

Memphis

GRIZZLIES

Projection: 5th division

14th in West

Starting five: PG Allen Iverson, SG O.J. Mayo, SF Rudy Gay, PF Zach Randolph, C Marc Gasol, Sixth man: Mike Conley.

Insiders say: Second-overall pick Hasheem Thabeet has impressed with his blocking and shot-altering abilities, but the rookie has been poor at rebounding and drifts away from the basket.

burning question: Was landing Iverson a good move? While the future hall of famer will help by teaching the Grizzlies' young core of guards, The Answer is only going to siphon their minutes on the floor.

Last season: 24-58, 12th in conference.


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