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NBA preview: Southwest Division

Tracy McGrady will give Houston a new look this season.
Tracy McGrady will give Houston a new look this season.
Associated Press

Only one division in the NBA's new alignment can boast that all five of its teams were in the playoffs last season — the Southwest Division.

That's not quite as impressive as it sounds — New Orleans is now in the Western Conference, and its 41-41 record last season wouldn't have earned a playoff berth in the tougher West. But it still gives an indication of how solid this division is, top to bottom.

At the top, of course, is perennial power San Antonio, which made few offseason changes but is considered by some to be the preseason favorite to win it all.

After the Spurs things get muddy, though, with two teams — Dallas and Houston — having responded to first-round playoff ousters by changing roughly half their rosters.

Memphis pretty much stood pat, banking on improvement by its young players to make it a notch better.

And the Hornets' biggest offseason move was jettisoning coach Tim Floyd, which doesn't figure to be enough to make them contenders.


1. San Antonio

2003-2004 RECORD: 57-25

DIVISION FINISH: Second, lost to Lakers in second round

COACH: Gregg Popovich, ninth season


KEY ADDITIONS: G Brent Barry, F Tony Massenburg

KEY LOSSES: F Hedo Turkoglu, G Charlie Ward, C Kevin Willis

STRENGTHS: Tim Duncan is an annual MVP candidate. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are young and have good upsides. Barry will provide experience at a couple positions, good passing and perimeter shooting to take heat off Duncan. One of NBA's best defensive teams.

CONCERNS: Streaky perimeter shooting has been a problem. Bench isn't as deep as it was a couple seasons ago.

2. Dallas

2003-2004 RECORD: 52-30

DIVISION FINISH: Third, lost to Sacramento in first round

COACH: Don Nelson, eighth season in Dallas

TOP ROOKIES: G Devin Harris

KEY ADDITIONS: C Erick Dampier, G Jason Terry, G Jerry Stackhouse, F Alan Henderson, C Calvin Booth

KEY LOSSES: G Steve Nash, F Antawn Jamison, F Antoine Walker, F Eduardo Najera, C Scott Williams, G Tony Delk, F Danny Fortson, F Christian Laettner

STRENGTHS: Dirk Nowitzki is All-Star caliber scorer. Terry, Finley and Stackhouse can score, too.

CONCERNS: Was Dampier's career season in Golden State a breakout or a contract-year aberration? Stackhouse has had trouble accepting subordinate roles in the past, and he's being asked to be sixth man. Jason Terry isn't as good a point guard as Nash. Owner Mark Cuban is a meddler. Nelson promises better defense, but reason why isn't apparent.

3. Memphis

2003-2004 RECORD: 50-32

DIVISION FINISH: Fourth, lost to Spurs in first round

COACH: Hubie Brown, third season with Grizzlies


KEY ADDITIONS: F Brian Cardinal


STRENGTHS: Team is deep, with just about everybody on roster capable of contributing something. Brown is no-nonsense coach and these players seem to respect that.

CONCERNS: Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells have implosion potential. Lorenzen Wright and Jake Tsakalidis aren't formidable center duo. Shooter Mike Miller has had health problems.

4. Houston

2003-2004 RECORD: 45-37

DIVISION FINISH: Fifth, lost to Lakers in first round

COACH: Jeff Van Gundy, second season


KEY ADDITIONS: G Tracy McGrady, C Dikembe Mutombo, F Juwan Howard, F Ryan Bowen, G Bob Sura, G Charlie Ward, G Tyronn Lue

KEY LOSSES: G Steve Francis, G Cuttino Mobley, F Kelvin Cato, G Adrian Griffin, F Eric Piatkowski

STRENGTHS: Yao Ming has potential to succeed Shaquille O'Neal as league's most dominant center. McGrady is a scoring machine. Van Gundy provides a disciplined framework.

CONCERNS: McGrady will have to adjust to Van Gundy's style. Point guard is a sore spot. Mutombo is a chronic grumbler.

5. New Orleans

2003-2004 RECORD: 41-41

DIVISION FINISH: Third, lost to Miami in first round

COACH: Byron Scott, first season


KEY ADDITIONS: F Rodney Rogers, F Chris Andersen, F Lee Nailon

KEY LOSSES: G Steve Smith, F Robert Traylor, G Stacey Augmon

STRENGTHS: C Jamaal Magloire has improved every season. Baron Davis and David Wesley are strong backcourt. Chemistry under Scott couldn't be any worse than it was under Tim Floyd.

CONCERNS: Davis wants to be traded. Jamal Mashburn is out for the season with a knee injury. They're playing in a tougher conference.