While the Jazz are talking about winning 50 games this season for the first time in franchise history, other teams are improving, too.
Here's a look at the 25 NBA teams, by division:Atlantic Division
Boston Celtics - The Celtics have averaged 61 victories for the last nine seasons, but failed to reach the NBA Finals last spring when they were knocked off by Detroit.
The Celtics will be trying to regroup this season under first-year Coach Jimmy Rodgers, but they certainly still should be fairly easy winners in this division. How will things be different under Rodgers? Boston will probably run more offensively, and will definitely use more players to give the starters a break. Rodgers has said he'll be willing to sacrifice a few regular-season games along the way if that's what it takes to keep the team fresh for the playoffs.
It's also possible that a player like Kevin McHale or Danny Ainge will come off the bench to give the second unit some scoring punch.
The key for the Celtics could be the development of young players like second-year men Brad Lohaus and Mark Acres, plus rookie guard Brian Shaw. Undoubtedly, the Boston team will remain intact for at least a couple of years. Center Robert Parish and guard Dennis Johnson are entering their 13th NBA seasons, and the other veterans have almost as much experience - Larry Bird is starting his 10th year, Kevin McHale his ninth and Danny Ainge his eighth.
So the Celtics are not getting any younger, but they still will be feared throughout the NBA - and especially in the Atlantic Division.
New York Knicks - The new combination of Coach Rick Pitino and general manager Al Bianchi made great progress with the Knicks last season, helping them recover from a slow start to make the playoffs. The key players? Center Patrick Ewing and guard Mark Jackson.
Ewing showed the promise that was expected of him as the No. 1 choice in the 1985 draft, averaging 20.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. Jackson was a late first-round pick himself, but was a clear choice as Rookie of the Year after he averaged 10.6 assists, third in the NBA behind John Stockton and Magic Johnson. The Knicks also received help from guard Gerald Wilkins and forwards Kenny Walker and Johnny Newman.
During the summer, they added forward Charles Oakley in a trade with Chicago that immediately makes them a better rebounding team and also drafted point guard Rod Strickland of DePaul to back up Jackson.
While no one's expecting them to catch Boston right away, the Knicks seem to be on the right track toward bringing the magic back to Madison Square Garden. Actually, one of the keys will be winning on the road - they were 9-32 away from home last season.
Philadelphia 76ers - The Sixers have fallen fast from the NBA's elite, but still have talent - forward Charles Barkley and point guard Maurice Cheeks remain prime evidence of that. They've also added rookie guard Hersey Hawkins and are capable up front with Mike Gminski and Cliff Robinson.
Coach Jimmy Lynam has the responsibility of trying to restore the Sixers to greatness, having taken over for Matt Guokas last season during the All-Star break. The Sixers' 36 victories last year were their fewest since 1974-75 and they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1975-76.
No doubt, they've come full cycle since winning the 1983 NBA championship; this season will tell a lot about their ability to again become a real contender.
Washington Bullets - Here's another team that's really looking for an identity, especially now that Moses Malone is gone to Atlanta. The Bullets did make considerable progress under Coach Wes Unseld in the last four months of last season, making the playoffs and taking the eventual Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons to the full five games in the first round.
Young forwards John Williams and Terry Catledge are becoming solid NBA players and Bernard King showed good signs after missing two seasons with a devastating knee injury, but center and point guard pose serious questions. The Bullets prepared for the loss of Moses by trading Manute Bol to Golden State for Dave Feitl, but gave up on point guard Muggsy Bogues, allowing him to go to Charlotte in the expansion draft.
The Bullets are trying for a new image in the Capital area, spotlighting Unseld and his work ethic and trying to build a hustling, improving team. They'll have to deliver on those counts just to make the playoffs.
New Jersey Nets - The Nets are also trying to improve under the direction of a former great, hard-working NBA center. Willis Reed became their coach last February and made some inroads, winning at Boston in his first week on the job.
They're trying to develop some kind of consistency this season, building around a front line of Tim McCormick, Roy Hinson and, of course, Buck Williams. Two household names are gone; Orlando Woolridge went to the Lakers as a free agent after playing in only 19 games because of injuries and drug rehabilitation last season and guard Pearl Washington went to Miami in the expansion draft. John Bagley became a dependable point guard after arriving in a trade from Cleveland, but rookie guard Dennis Hopson was largely a disappointment, failing to shoot 40 percent from the field.
Charlotte Hornets - The Hornets have loaded up on guards and now resemble the Jazz's Eastern Conference farm club - they have former Jazzmen Kelly Tripucka, Rickey Green and Dell Curry. They also acquired Bogues in the expansion draft and took Kentucky's Rex Chapman in the college draft.
Their only center is Dave Hoppen, who came from Golden State. Other veterans are forwards Kurt Rambis and Earl Cureton and guard Robert Reid.
No doubt, the Hornets would do well to match the 15-67 record that Dallas posted as an expansion team in 1980-81. Coach Dick Harter, a former assistant with Detroit and Indiana, is taking on the challenge of building a team from scratch. It won't be easy.
Detroit Pistons - If there were any questions about this division's being the toughest in the league, the Pistons answered them by their performance in the playoffs last spring. They defeated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals and took a 3-2 lead over the Lakers in the NBA Finals, only to lose the last two games in the Forum.
The Pistons definitely showed that the balance of power in the league is shifting into the middle of the country - and Detroit is just one of several talented teams in the division. But the Pistons have to be the Central favorites, based on their strong finish.
This is a very solid team - they have a nice three-guard rotation with Vinnie Johnson coming off the bench to join Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars; young forwards John Salley and Dennis Rodman to go with Adrian Dantley and Rick Mahorn; and center Bill Laimbeer.
The Pistons are moving out of the Silverdome to the Palace of Auburn Hills, a more lavish yet more intimate basketball facility. Chuck Daly is undoubtedly one of the league's best coaches, and he'll have the Pistons looking to go all the way this year.
Atlanta Hawks - The Hawks slipped a little last season - to 50 victories - but made offseason moves that just might bring them back. They acquired guard Reggie Theus from Sacramento and signed Moses Malone as a free agent. Throw in Dominique Wilkins, Doc Rivers and Kevin Willis and you certainly have a very potent offensive team.
They can just about match Detroit's bench strength with players like John Battle, Spud Webb, Cliff Levingston and Jon Koncak. Mike Fratello has done an excellent coaching job with this team; his assignment now is to keep all of his scorers happy. They almost had a shot at Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals last year with a 3-2 lead over Boston and Game 6 at home, but lost twice to the Celtics and had to watch their Central Division rivals go on to the NBA Finals. They'd like to do something about that this year.
Chicago Bulls - No longer is this team Michael Jordan and Whoever Else. Coach Doug Collins and general manager Jerry Krause, the 1988 NBA Executive of the Year, have put together more of a well-rounded team.
Jordan, of course, remains the focal point. As if he doesn't do enough other things, he was a clear winner in the voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He's joined by point guards John Paxson and Sam Vincent and forwards Brad Sellers, Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. Pippen will likely miss the first month of the season, following back surgery.
Krause made a rather bold trade during the offseason, sending rebounder Charles Oakley to New York for center Bill Cartwright in hopes of gaining some low-post scoring. Dave Corzine and rookie Will Perdue of Vanderbilt are also available at center.
Milwaukee Bucks - The Bucks have not fallen as far or as fast as, say, Philadelphia, but they're also in a regrouping situation. Sidney Moncrief's knee injury and Ricky Pierce's holdout were damaging last season, Coach Del Harris' first after replacing legend Don Nelson.
The Bucks still have a lot going for them, especially flexibility. Harris can use a front line of Jack Sikma, Terry Cummings and Randy Breuer, or a much smaller threesome of Paul Pressey, Cummings and Sikma. He can also employ versatile players like Larry Krystkowiak and former Jazzman Fred Roberts, plus point guard Jay Humphries and rookies Jeff Grayer and Tito Horford.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Most NBA observers are very impressed by the potential of this young team, anchored by All-Star center Brad Daugherty.
Acquired from Phoenix, forward Larry Nance fit in very well with Daugherty and Hot Rod Williams on the front line. In the backcourt, the Cavs have two players - Mark Price and Ron Harper - who should soon become All-Stars and continue to play at that level for a long time. The Cavs have also added some veteran reserves in center Tree Rollins and point guard Darnell Valentine.
Coach Lenny Wilkens definitely likes what he sees in the Cavs, the only drawback being that they have to compete in the tough Central Division.
Indiana Pacers - The Pacers themselves were once a young, improving team, but Cleveland and New York caught up to them last season and kept them out of the playoffs. The tradeoff was that they did well in the draft lottery, finishing No. 2 and being able to draft Marist center Rik Smits.
The Pacers are looking for veteran forward Herb Williams to have a better year than he did last season; otherwise, they do have plenty of talent with the likes of Chuck Person, Wayman Tisdale, Reggie Miller and improving center Steve Stipanovich. Person fell off somewhat after his rookie season and he'll have to get better if the Pacers plan to make any inroads in the Central Division.
Dallas Mavericks - Coach John MacLeod did exactly what Mavericks followers hoped he would in his first season by taking his team to the seventh game of the Western Conference finals before losing to the Lakers. Under Dick Motta, the Mavs had never lasted past the second round of the playoffs, even after winning the Midwest Division.
MacLeod talked "playoffs" from Day 1 on the job and had his team ready for the postseason, even though they lost the Midwest title to Denver by one game.
Roy Tarpley, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, was the key player for Dallas last season. His rebounding strength and overall contribution off the bench gave the Mavs the depth they were missing. Certainly, the starting lineup was already solid, with forwards Mark Aguirre and Sam Perkins, guards Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper and center James Donaldson.
Houston Rockets - The Rockets have certainly faded after reaching the 1986 NBA Finals, but there's reason to believe they'll come back strong. New Coach Don Chaney is expected to be able to sort out the Rockets' personality troubles and keep them on course.
As long as they have center Akeem Olajuwon, the Rockets have to be feared in the Midwest. Point guard Sleepy Floyd seemed to have trouble making the midseason transition from Golden State, but he was an All-Star as recently as 1987 and could flourish again under Chaney. The outside shooting of former Clipper guard Mike Woodson and first-round draft choice Derrick Chievous should take some pressure off the inside players and a better atmosphere in Houston should translate to more victories.
Utah Jazz - The Jazz's 1988 playoff will make the rest of the NBA watch out for them this season, as they try to keep improving. The best thing they have going for them is that their best players - John Stockton, Karl Malone and Thurl Bailey - improved dramatically last season, but still show signs of getting even better. The key for them will be the development and redesigning of a bench that was not able to offer much help to Coach Frank Layden during the playoffs.
The addition of center-forward Mike Brown from Chicago via Charlotte and forward Jose Ortiz and center Eric Leckner, their last two No. 1 draft choices - definitely strengthens the front line. The questions at the moment involve who will back up guards Bobby Hansen and Stockton.
Denver Nuggets - After injuries to Fat Lever and Jay Vincent cost the Nuggets a chance to knock off Dallas in the second round of the playoffs, many NBA fans have a difficult time remembering that Denver actually won 54 games and the Midwest Division championship last year. No wonder Doug Moe was the NBA Coach of the Year, taking this overachieving team a long, long way.
Denver will be back for more in 1988, and the acquisition of free-agent guard Walter Davis from Phoenix will make the Nuggets even more explosive on offense. If players like Blair Rasmussen and Danny Schayes continue to improve and veteran Alex English stays healthy and productive, there's little reason to think the Nuggets will not be right in the Midwest fight again this season.
San Antonio Spurs - After taking Kansas to the NCAA championship, what can new Coach Larry Brown do for the Spurs? Bob Weiss did a pretty fair coaching job just to get San Antonio into the playoffs last season, but was fired.
David Robinson is not due until next season, so Brown and the Spurs again will have to rely on Frank Brickowski in the middle. If Robinson is indeed a franchise center, the Spurs show signs of developing the talent to accompany him - with guards Alvin Robertson and Johnny Dawkins, swingman Willie Anderson and forward Greg "Cadillac" Anderson.
Miami Heat - The Midwest Division loses Sacramento permanently but gains Miami for 1988-89. The Heat took a much different approach from expansion partner Charlotte in building a team, choosing to stockpile draft picks as part of a long-range program.
Miami did make two good first-round choices in the college draft this year, taking Syracuse center Rony Seikaly and DePaul guard Kevin Edwards. The Heat also has three future second-round picks, most acquired either in exchange for veteran players acquired in the expansion draft or as a result of agreeing not to take certain teams' unprotected players.
The key player right away for Miami could be guard Pearl Washington, largely a disappointment with New Jersey but certainly talented.
Los Angeles Lakers - Having won back-to-back NBA championships, what's next for the Lakers? What will happen in the playoffs is a question that will have to wait, but there's no doubt L.A. is still the team to beat in the Pacific Division, at least.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is 41, but the rest of the team is young and intact. The Lakers lost Kurt Rambis to Charlotte as a free agent, but replaced him with high-scoring Orlando Woolridge and also drafted point guard David Rivers of Notre Dame.
While the Lakers appear more vulnerable than ever to the rest of the NBA, there's still a dominating team at home in the Forum and command respect wherever they go. Coach Pat Riley is beginning to receive his due as one of the NBA's best, and this season should really be the rest of his ability.
Portland Trail Blazers - While the Jazz dispatched Portland in four games in the first round of the playoffs, the Blazers still had an excellent season as Coach Mike Schuler reached the 100-victory mark in two years.
The play of center Kevin Duckworth, the NBA's Most Improved Player, was the major reason the Blazers were able to overcome injuries to Steve Johnson and Kiki Vandeweghe that could have destroyed their season. Guard Clyde Drexler became a more steady player and point guard Terry Porter continued to be an effective scorer and passer, while forward Jerome Kersey challenged Duckworth for Most Improved honors.
The Blazers also made a move to strengthen their rebounding by drafting forward Mark Bryant of Seton Hall. Portland fans are restless after Schuler's teams lost in the first round of the playoffs for two straight years, but this is still a very talented team.
Seattle SuperSonics - The Sonics actually improved last season, although they made far less of a splash in the playoffs - they lost to Denver in the first round.
Seattle traded with the L.A. Clippers for Michael Cage in June and that eased the loss of Tom Chambers to Phoenix as a free agent. The Sonics will now have a three-forward rotation of Xavier McDaniel, Derrick McKey and Cage, plus a solid backcourt with Dale Ellis and Nate McMillan. Between Alton Lister and Olden Polynice, they should have enough production at center.
Certainly, Seattle remains one of the teams anxious to move up as the Lakers begin to slide. Coach Bernie Bickerstaff has taken the Sonics from 31 wins to 39 to 44, winning 17 straight home games in the process last season.
Phoenix Suns - Because of trades and other moves, the Suns will field a team much different from the one that started last season. Trades brought Kevin Johnson, Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, Craig Hodges and Ron Moore to Phoenix last season; they signed Tom Chambers as the first unrestricted free agent in NBA history; and drafted Tim Perry of Temple and Dan Majerle of Central Michigan in the first round.
They also have forward Armon Gilliam, the No. 2 choice in the 1987 draft, who came back from a foot injury to have a solid rookie season.
No doubt, things are looking up for a franchise that has struggled on and off the court recently. Veteran Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons has taken over the team, already planning to have former NBA great Paul Westphal become the head coach when he's ready.
Golden State - The Warriors left plenty of room for improvement with their disastrous 20-62 record last season, and they'll try to come back with center Ralph Sampson and Coach Don Nelson leading the way.
Questions remain about Sampson, who came from Houston in a blockbuster December trade but played only 29 games in Oakland because of a knee injury. Other players also were sidelined for various reasons - Chris Mullin missed 22 games while in alcohol rehabilitation, forward Larry Smith missed 62 games with a thigh injury and guard Terry Teagle missed 35 games with hamstring trouble.
What Nelson and the Warriors have going for them is plenty of athletic ability available - young players like guards Otis Smith and Winston Garland are promising. The Warriors drafted guard Mitch Richmond of Kansas State, possibly with plans to move Mullin to small forward.
Sacramento Kings - The move to the Pacific Division could make things a little easier for the Kings, who struggled to a 24-58 record last season. They're moving about one-half block into the new Arco Arena, after three years of solid sellouts in their original Sacramento home.
Their chief personnel move during the offseason was the trade of Reggie Theus to Atlanta for Randy Wittman, which means that second-year point guard Kenny Smith is the undisputed floor leader. Jerry Reynolds, once the Kings' interim head coach, again moved up in the middle of last season when Bill Russell moved fulltime into the front office.
Reynolds' NBA record is a fairly respectable 22-38, so Kings followers are hopeful he can make strides with a fresh start and a full season.
Los Angeles Clippers - The Clippers' heralded 1988 draft lost a little luster when Danny Manning and Charles D. Smith failed to lead the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Seoul, but they still should be impact players in the NBA. The Clippers are still hoping for a comeback from veteran point guard Norm Nixon to add stability to a young team and are also looking for the development of their three 1987 first-round draft choices - Reggie Williams, Joe Wolf and Kenny Norman.