NBA 1991-92 team-by-team preview

THE BALTIMORE SUN

(in predicted order of finish)

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Boston Celtics

Last season: First (56-26), lost to Detroit in conference semifinals, 4-2

Coach: Chris Ford (56-26 career record)

New face: F Rick Fox (draft)

Outlook: A rejuvenated Larry Bird has the Celtics thinking title again.

Key: Keeping the aging front line of Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale healthy and active.

New York Knicks

Last season: Third (39-43), lost in first round of conference playoffs to Chicago, 3-0

Coach: Pat Riley (533-194 career record)

New faces: Riley, F Xavier McDaniel (acquired from Phoenix), C Tim McCormick (acquired from Atlanta), G Greg Anthony (draft), F Anthony Mason (free agent)

Outlook: Riley has imbued the Knicks with renewed confidence and restructured the defense. McDaniel, a proven scorer and rebounder, will allow Kiki Vandeweghe to fill the sixth-man role.

Key: Keeping Patrick Ewing focused and upbeat after the All-NBA center lost in salary arbitration.

Philadelphia 76ers

Last season: Second (44-38), lost to Chicago in conference semifinals, 4-1

Coach: Jim Lynam (211-217 career record)

New faces: G Tharon Mayes (free agent), C Charles Shackleford (free agent), G Mitchell Wiggins (free agent)

Outlook: The 76ers lost muscle and leadership after waiving F Rick Mahorn, but the backcourt has been solidified by the return of point G Johnny Dawkins, who missed most of last season after a knee injury.

Key: The undersized 76ers will need oft-troubled Shackleford to fill the rebounding void left by Mahorn.

Miami Heat

Last season: Sixth (24-58), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Kevin Loughery (509-587 career record)

New faces: Loughery, F George Ackles (draft), G Steve Smith (draft)

Outlook: C Rony Seikaly and F Glen Rice made big strides last season, and rookie Smith has been impressive in a trial at point guard, but the Heat lacks depth.

Key: Playmaker Sherman Douglas, a proven leader, remains a contract holdout.

Washington Bullets

Last season: Fourth (30-52), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Wes Unseld (131-170 career record)

New faces: G Michael Adams (acquired from Denver), G LaBradford Smith (draft), F Albert King (free agent), F Larry Stewart (rookie free agent).

Outlook: The Bullets will start the season minus their 2 best forwards, Bernard King, recovering from knee surgery, and John Williams, who held out. Adams, replacing traded Darrell Walker at the point, adds quickness and 3-point range.

Key: Trying not to dig too deep a hole until Bernard King returns to action.

Orlando Magic

Last season: Fourth in Midwest Division (31-51), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Matt Guokas (168-203 career record)

New faces: F Brian Williams (draft, unsigned), C Stanley Roberts (draft)

Outlook: The Magic improved dramatically last season, winning 13 more games than in its inaugural season and going 20-18 over the last 2 months. Scott Skiles is among the NBA's most effective playmakers, and F Dennis Scott had a strong rookie season.

Key: The defense still is suspect, and any team with Greg Kite as its starting center can't be treated as a serious contender.

New Jersey Nets

Last season: Fifth (26-56), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Bill Fitch (805-835 career record)

New faces: G Kenny Anderson (draft), F Rafael Addison (free agent)

Outlook: The Nets showed signs of growth last season, with a strong rookie effort by power F Derrick Coleman and offensive boost from G Drazen Petrovic.

Key: Getting Anderson signed and tutored to trigger a major rebuilding job.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago Bulls

Last season: First (61-21), won NBA championship

Coach: Phil Jackson (116-48 career record)

New face: F Mark Randall (draft)

Outlook: Stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the title drive and established a new blueprint for building a championship team with athletic versatility.

Key: Standing pat is often counterproductive for defending champions, and Jackson must keep egos in check.

Detroit Pistons

Last season: Second (50-32), lost to Chicago in conference finals, 4-0

Coach: Chuck Daly (428-269 career record)

New faces: F Brad Sellers (free agent), G Darrell Walker (acquired from Washington), F Orlando Woolridge (acquired from Denver)

Outlook: After winning consecutive titles, the Pistons were humiliated in a playoff sweep by Bulls. Daly unloaded veterans James Edwards and Vinnie Johnson, seeking quickness in a sagging offense.

Key: Isiah Thomas, not chosen by the Olympic selection committee, will try to prove a point to his mounting NBA critics.

Indiana Pacers

Last season: Fifth (41-41), lost to Boston in first round of playoffs, 3-2

Coach: Bob Hill (52-71 career record)

New face: F Dale Davis (draft, unsigned)

Outlook: Hill gave the quixotic Pacers stability after replacing Dick Versace. Indiana has an explosive offense, led by Reggie Miller, Chuck Person and Detlef Schrempf, but still is vulnerable defensively.

Key: C Rik Smits must rebound from a disappointing third year in the NBA.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Last season: Sixth (33-49), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Lenny Wilkens (758-696 career record)

New faces: G John Battle (free agent), G Terrell Brandon (draft), G Jimmy Oliver (draft)

Outlook: The Cavaliers were hurt by injuries last season, chiefly point G Mark Price and power F John Williams, but this young team has potential.

Key: How rookie Brandon runs the team until Price recovers fully from knee surgery.

Milwaukee Bucks

Last season: Third (48-34), lost to Philadelphia in first round of playoffs, 3-0

Coach: Del Harris (324-332 career record)

New face: C Moses Malone (free agent)

Outlook: The Bucks are solid and quick in the backcourt with Dale Ellis, Jay Humphries and Alvin Robertson, but slow and ponderous up front with Malone, Danny Schayes and rejuvenated Larry Krystkowiak.

Key: Harris must rebuild team confidence after a late-season collapse and unexpected playoff sweep by the 76ers.

Atlanta Hawks

Last season: Fourth (43-39), lost to Detroit in first round of playoffs, 3-2

Coach: Bob Weiss (102-144 career record)

New faces: C Blair Rasmussen (acquired from Denver), G Travis Mays (acquired from Sacramento), G/F Stacey Augmon (draft), G Rodney Monroe (draft).

Outlook: After another quick ouster in the playoffs, Hawks management opted for a youth movement, shedding Moses Malone, Doc Rivers and Spud Webb.

Key: How untested Rumeal Robinson can run the Hawks offense and whether Weiss will find team chemistry.

Charlotte Hornets

Last season: Seventh (26-56), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Allan Bristow (no NBA experience)

New face: F Larry Johnson (draft)

Outlook: Johnson missed all preseason as a holdout while the Hornets debated whether he was the right pick to begin with. The frontcourt lacks agility, with J.R. Reid a major disappointment.

Key: Getting Johnson into uniform to provide toughness and quickness.

MIDWEST DIVISION

Houston Rockets

Last season: Third (52-30), lost to Lakers in first round of playoffs, 3-0

Coach: Don Chaney (191-240 career record)

New faces: F John Turner (draft), F Carl Herrera (free agent), C Tree Rollins (free agent)

Outlook: The Rockets proved they could win without injured Hakeem Olajuwon last season and recorded a franchise-high victory total, including a 21-20 road mark. They added frontcourt muscle in Turner and Rollins to take pressure off Olajuwon.

Key: The backcourt of Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell has a tendency to get wild in pressure situations.

Utah Jazz

Last season: Second (54-28), lost to Portland in conference semifinals, 4-1

Coach: Jerry Sloan (243-201 career record)

New faces: G Eric Murdock (draft), F David Benoit (free agent)

Outlook: Sloan still is looking for a stronger supporting cast to surround star F Karl Malone, star G John Stockton and solid G Jeff Malone.

Key: The Jazz hopes its defense will compensate for offensive shortcomings.

San Antonio Spurs

Last season: First (55-27), lost to Golden State in first round of playoffs, 3-1

Coach: Larry Brown (578-379 career record)

New faces: F Antoine Carr (acquired from Sacramento), G Tom Garrick (free agent)

Outlook: The Spurs showed a lack of toughness in losing to the Warriors in the playoffs, and Brown has been openly critical of All-NBA C David Robinson. Playmaker Rod Strickland sat out training camp.

Key: Brown has had a history of quitting when a team fails to fulfill his lofty expectations. His traveling itch could be tested.

Dallas Mavericks

Last season: Sixth (28-54), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Richie Adubato (82-141 career record)

New faces: F Doug Smith (draft), C Donald Hodge (draft), G Mike Iuzzolino (draft)

Outlook: The drug-related NBA suspension of Roy Tarpley has eased the mental strain on the remaining Mavericks, but he leaves a huge void up front. The team was expected to trade a proven guard for a gifted big man but didn't.

Key: Smith, who reportedly agreed to a contract yesterday, and Hodge will have to make instant contributions or the Mavericks will continue to slide.

Denver Nuggets

Last season: Seventh (20-62), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Paul Westhead (159-166 career record)

New faces: F Kevin Brooks (rookie acquired from Milwaukee), G Mark Macon (draft), C Dikembe Mutombo (draft), G Winston Garland (acquired from L.A. Clippers)

Outlook: Westhead has appointed second-year G Chris Jackson to direct a run-and-gun offense after trading Michael Adams to the Bullets. Macon will have to fill an offensive void after the losses of Adams, Orlando Woolridge and injured Todd Lichti (knee).

Key: Mutombo could prove to be the defensive stopper and cornerstone of the young Nuggets.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Last season: Fifth (29-53), failed to make playoffs)

Coach: Jimmy Rodgers (94-70 career record)

New faces: Rodgers, C Luc Longley (draft)

Outlook: The Wolves made progress under Bill Musselman, but rebelled against his tight rein and slowdown style. Rodgers favors the Celtics' uptempo game, but may have ill-fitting parts.

Key: Minnesota needs Longley to provide inside scoring, but the huge Australian missed all of training camp.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Portland Trail Blazers

Last season: First (63-19), lost to Lakers in conference finals, 4-2

Coach: Rick Adelman (136-63 career record)

New face: Rookie G Lamont Strothers (acquired from Golden State)

Outlook: This is a veteran team deep in talent that fell short of expectations in the playoffs. C Kevin Duckworth may be pressed to maintain a starting role.

L Key: Adelman chose to stand pat and may regret his decision.

Los Angeles Lakers

Last season: Second (58-24), lost to Chicago in NBA Finals, 4-1

Coach: Mike Dunleavy (58-24 career record)

New face: G Sedale Threatt (acquired from Seattle)

Outlook: In losing to the Bulls, Dunleavy showed little faith in his reserves as starters showed signs of fatigue.

Key: Dunleavy will need to make use of Threatt and young C Elden Campbell.

Seattle SuperSonics

Last season: Fifth (41-41), lost to Portland in first round of playoffs, 3-2

Coach: K.C. Jones (534-288 career record)

New face: C Rich King (draft)

Outlook: The SuperSonics have just the right balance of youth and veterans to scare a lot of teams, but the trade of Threatt left a backcourt void.

Key: Jones needs F Shawn Kemp and second-year G Gary Payton to mature quickly for the SuperSonics to survive in the NBA's toughest division.

Phoenix Suns

Last season: Third (55-27), lost to Utah in first round of playoffs, 3-1

Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons (752-716 career record)

New faces: F Jerrod Mustaf (acquired from New York), G Trent Tucker (acquired from New York)

Outlook: After a quick exit from the playoffs, Fitzsimmons chose a new look, trading Xavier McDaniel and his 17.0 scoring average to the Knicks for the promising Mustaf. Tucker's outside shooting will open the middle for Johnson and Jeff Hornacek.

Key: The Suns must bolster a shaky defense to make a serious run at the title.

Golden State Warriors

Last season: Fourth (44-38), lost to Lakers in conference semifinals, 4-1

Coach: Don Nelson (664-466 career record)

New faces: F Chris Gatling (draft), C-F Victor Alexander (draft)

Outlook: The Warriors kept rivals off balance with a small, quick lineup featuring Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway, but were worn down physically in the playoffs.

Key: Nelson will seek inside scoring and rebounding from Tyrone Hill, Alexander and Gatling.

Los Angeles Clippers

Last season: Sixth (31-51), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Mike Schuler (158-135 career record)

New faces: G Doc Rivers (acquired from Atlanta), C James Edwards (acquired from Detroit)

Outlook: The Clippers welcome back a sound Ron Harper and Danny Manning, and added solid veterans Rivers and Edwards.

Key: Rivers protested his trade, and his enthusiasm will be tested as the Clippers' new floor leader.

Sacramento Kings

Last season: Seventh (25-57), failed to make playoffs

Coach: Dick Motta (849-845 career record)

New faces: G Spud Webb (acquired from Atlanta), F Billy Owens (draft), C Dwayne Schintzius (acquired from San Antonio)

Outlook: An impatient Motta shed Travis Mays, traded Antoine Carr and paid off the rest of Ralph Sampson's contract. But now Motta must place faith in Schintzius.

Key: The Kings need to improve dramatically on last season's 1-40 road mark.

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