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SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Last season: 57-25, eliminated, 4-2, by Lakers in conference semifinals.

Coach: Gregg Popovich, ninth season, 396-210.

Added: G Brent Barry (free agent, SuperSonics), F Linton Johnson (free agent, Bulls), C Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (free agent, Trail Blazers), F Tony Massenburg (free agent, Kings), G Beno Udrih (draft, No. 28, Briel Milano).

Lost: G Ron Mercer (free agent, Nets), F Hedo Turkoglu (free agent, Magic), C Kevin Willis (free agent, Hawks), G Jason Hart (free agent, Bobcats), G Charlie Ward (free agent, Rockets).

Better or worse?: A huge problem last season was the lack of a consistent outside shooter to take the heat off Tim Duncan on the inside, and the Spurs couldn't have found a much better one than Barry, whose .452 accuracy rate was the league's second best. Putting Barry alongside Tony Parker, Duncan, Radoslav Nesterovic and Manu Ginobili gives San Antonio a strong core that should win the West and advance to the NBA Finals.
Last season: 45-37, eliminated, 4-1, by Lakers in first round of playoffs.

Coach: Jeff Van Gundy, second season with Rockets, 45-37; ninth season overall, 293-209.

Added: G Tracy McGrady, F Juwan Howard, G Tyronn Lue, G Reece Gaines (trade with Magic), C Dikembe Mutombo (trade with Bulls), G Bob Sura (free agent, Hawks), F Ryan Bowen (free agent, Nuggets), G Charlie Ward (free agent, Spurs).

Lost: G Steve Francis, G Cuttino Mobley, F Kelvin Cato (traded to Magic), G Eric Piatkowski, G Mike Wilks, F Adrian Griffin (traded to Bulls).

Better or worse?: That'll depend on McGrady, who will be pushed by Van Gundy to be a better defender and to defer at times on offense to Yao Ming. The third-year center from China still lacks toughness and consistency. One of the "glue guys" who will be a key to their success is Jim Jackson, among the league's most underrated players.
Last season: 52-30, eliminated, 4-1, by Kings in first round.

Coach: Don Nelson, eighth season with Mavs, 297-229; 27th season overall, 1,148-858.

Added: G Jason Terry, F Alan Henderson (trade with Hawks), G Jerry Stackhouse (trade with Wizards), C Erick Dampier, G Dan Dickau (trade with Warriors), C Calvin Booth (trade with SuperSonics), G Devin Harris (draft, No. 5, Wisconsin), G Avery Johnson (free agent, Warriors).

Lost: G Steve Nash (free agent, Suns), F Antawn Jamison (traded to Wizards), F Antonio Walker, G Tony Delk (traded to Hawks), F Danny Fortson (traded to SuperSonics), C Eduardo Najera (traded to Warriors), G Travis Best (free agent, Nets), F Scott Williams (free agent, Cavaliers).

Better or worse?: Dampier provides something the Mavericks have been lacking for years, a legitimate low-post threat -- and he comes at a time when the Western Conference has been depleted of the game's most dominant big man. Michael Finley will be asked to reassume some of the scoring load that dropped off for him the past two seasons, and the presence of Dampier means opposing defenses will not be able to key on Dirk Nowitzki as much as they did in the past. It remains to be seen whether Terry can adequately replace Nash.

Last season: 50-32, eliminated by Spurs in first round, 4-0.

Coach: Hubie Brown, third season with Grizzlies, 78-78; 13th season overall, 419-488.

Added: F Brian Cardinal (free agent, Warriors).

Lost: F Theron Smith (expansion draft, Bobcats).

Better or worse?: In an improved conference, it'll be difficult for the Grizzlies to sneak up on people as they did last season. Cardinal is a gritty addition to a front line that already includes Pau Gasol, but Team President Jerry West again was unsuccessful in his quest to bring in a powerful center. Mike Miller's days in Memphis could be numbered if he doesn't produce quickly. Will Shane Battier do anything to justify West's faith in him?
Last season: 41-41, eliminated by Heat in first round, 4-3.

Coach: Byron Scott, first season with Hornets; fifth season overall, 149-139.

Added: G J.R. Smith (draft, No. 18, St. Benedict's (N.J.) Prep), F Chris Andersen (free agent, Nuggets), F Rodney Rogers (free agent, Nets), F Lee Nailon (free agent, Cavaliers), F Tremaine Fowlkes (free agent, Pistons), F Britton Johnsen (free agent, Magic).

Lost: F Jamal Mashburn (injured), G Courtney Alexander (free agent, Kings), G Steve Smith (free agent, Bobcats), F Stacey Augmon (free agent, Magic), F Robert Traylor (free agent, Cavaliers).

Better or worse?: Because of realignment and Mashburn's season-long absence with a knee injury, the Hornets should take a precipitous fall now that they've moved to the deeper Western Conference. Smith has looked impressive in the preseason, and he might even make David Wesley expendable. Baron Davis has calmed down after requesting a trade in the offseason. Jamaal Magloire wants out.

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