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Western Conference

In order of predicted finish

Tuesday, November 2, 2004; Page D07


Minnesota Timberwolves

2003-04: 58-24, 1st in Midwest Division.

Coach: Flip Saunders (386-302, .561).

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Key addition: 6-10 F Eddie Griffin, 8.6 ppg (free agency).

Key losses: None.

They'll make the playoffs if: The T-Wolves are eyeing a championship after staying whisper quiet this offseason. The hope is that health, not additional talent, will get them the trophy. But team discord threatens as the season beckons. Latrell Sprewell recently stated he will ask for a trade if not given a contract extension by tomorrow's home opener.

What realignment means to them: Almost guarantees a division championship, with the Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks and Grizzlies left to bludgeon each other in the Southwest Division.

Denver Nuggets

2003-04: 43-39, 6th in Midwest Division.

Coach: Jeff Bzdelik (60-104, .366).

Key additions: 6-9 F Kenyon Martin, 16.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg (trade); 6-4 G Greg Buckner, 3.1 ppg (free agency).

Key loss: G Jon Barry (free agency).

They'll make the playoffs if: Denver is gunning for a 50-win season. Re-signing Marcus Camby, and getting back a bulkier Carmelo Anthony with an Olympic-sized chip on his shoulder already makes the Nuggets better. Signing Martin has the Nuggets eyeing inclusion with the elite.

What realignment means to them: Like Minnesota, a bit of relief from the three-headed monster in Texas.

Portland Trail Blazers

2003-04: 41-41, 3rd in Pacific Division.

Coach: Maurice Cheeks (140-105, .571).

Key additions: 6-1 G Nick Van Exel, 12.6 ppg, 5.3 apg (trade); 7-1 C Joel Przybilla, 2.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg (free agency).

Key loss: 6-11 F-C Dale Davis (trade).

They'll make the playoffs if: Their depth can hold up and, as always, they stay out of trouble. Led by Zach Randolph and Shareef Abdur-Rahim in the front court and Damon Stoudamire, Derek Anderson and Darius Miles in the back court, Portland goes nine deep with more talent than just about anyone.

What realignment means to them: One or two kings, maybe a prince and then a bunch of serfs have historically inhabited the former Pacific Division. The Blazers for the past 15 years were either kings or princes. One slip and they'll taste serfdom in the Northwest.

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