Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona on April 25, 1996 · Page 72
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Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona · Page 72

Phoenix, Arizona
Issue Date:
Thursday, April 25, 1996
Page 72
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PS-6 Thunday, April 25, 1996 The Arizona Republic The Phoenix Gazette ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE: '96 PLAYOFF PREVIEW Phoenix Suns Los Angeles Lakers RECORD -41-41 FINISH - Fourth, Pacific Division COACH Cotton Fitzsimmons RECORD -53-29 FINISH -Second, Pacific Division COACH -Del Harris OUliU mwm Houston Rockets OLAJUWON STARTERS C - Hakeem Olajuwon F - Robert Horry F - Chucky Brown G Clyde Drexler G Kenny Smith TOP RESERVES Mark Bryant, Sam Mack, Pete Chilcutt, Eldridge Recasner, Mario Elie, Sam Casseli. RECORD -48-34 FINISH -Third, Midwest Division COACH - Rudy Tomjanovich STRENGTHS -They've won back-to-back world titles and held together through a season of one injury after another to the stars. Healthy, they're the team anybody will have to go through to reach the Finals. After all, they have Hakeem. WEAKNESSES - Bench strength could be suspect, but it has risen to the occasion the past two playoff runs. Good health is the Rockets' only concern. PLAYOFF FATE Once again, the Rockets rise from an injury-ridden season and put it all together for the playoff run. They will make the Bulls play a long series. Sacramento Kings : Cm J RICHMOND STARTERS C - Duane Causwell F - Brian Grant F - Olden Polynice G - Mitch Richmond G - Tyus Edney TOP RESERVES Michael Smith, Sarunas Marciulionis, Bobby Hurley, Corliss Williamson, Lionel Simmons. RECORD -39-43 FINISH - Fifth, Pacific Division COACH -Garry St. Jean STRENGTHS This is a team with great potential, which it showed early in the season. Good scoring, some defensive workers, plenty of bench. WEAKNESSES - This team just can't get it together and overcome a long history of losing. Chemistry has lacked as players and coach move farther apart. PLAYOFF FATE Easy pickings for Seattle in the first round. BARKLEY STARTERS C-Hot Rod Williams F Charles Barkley F- Michael Flnley G Wesley Person G Kevin Johnson TOP RESERVES A.C. Green, Wayman Tisdale, Danny Manning, Elliot Perry. STRENGTHS The Suns have quite a collection of highly skilled basketball players. When they're "on," they can be awesome, at both scoring and defending. KJ is on top of his game. The true unknown of the entire playoff field. WEAKNESSES For some reason, this team has developed no chemistry whatsoever. Some of the proolems have to do with health, others with the Suns' legendary failure to make a commitment to consistent defense. Mentally, who knows? PLAYOFF FATE -If their so-so season is an indicator, expect San Antonio to end it for the Suns in the first round. But it could be a long, rough series. Utah Jazz CZJIUTAH STOCKTON STARTERS C Felton Spencer F Karl Malone F - David Benoit G - John Stockton G-Jeff Hornacek TOP RESERVES Chris Morris, Adam Keefe, Greg Ostertag, Antolne Carr, Howard Eisley RECORD -55-27 FINISH -Second, Midwest Division COACH Jerry Sloan STRENGTHS - Maybe still the best two-man game in the league in Stockton and Malone, Hornacek can fill it up, bench has substance, defense still the trademark of a Sloan team. WEAKNESSES - Spencer has failed to come back strong from his injury and be effective. Age is not on Utah's side and they are approaching the playoffs a tired bunch. PLAYOFF FATE -Home-court advantage will help the Jazz slip past Portland in the first round, but they'll have no answer for Robinson in the second round. Seattle Sonics J 1 I ft .,,i.4;,a-,,- fx? KEMP STARTERS C - Shawn Kemp ' F Detlef Schrempf F - Ervin Johnson G - Gary Payton G Hersey Hawkins TOP RESERVES Nate McMillan, Vincent Askew, Sam Perkins RECORD -64-1 8 FINISH - First, Pacific Division COACH George Karl STRENGTHS On top of their game, the Sonics are clearly the best in the West at both ends of the floor. Kemp and Payton key both the offense and defense, but Schrempf is the most important piece to a run at a championship. Bench is fine. WEAKNESSES - How will the Sonics deal with the first-round disasters of the last two seasons? Will they panic at the first sign of trouble? They very well could. PLAYOFF FATE There will be no problem with Sacramento, but this time it's a second-round collapse against Houston. Bye, George. DIVAC STARTERS C Vlade Divac F-Cedric Ceballos F Eldon Campbell G-Nick Van Exel G Eddie Jones TOP RESERVES Magic Johnson, George lynch, Anthony Peeler, Sedale Threatt STRENGTHS The Lakers are an offensive-oriented team and possess a lot of firepower. Bench is very balanced. Magic has proved he can still do it. WEAKNESSES This has become a fragile team with guys like Ceballos and Van Exel even Magic providing distractions at just the wrong time. Many reject coaching and the commitment to defense is not of championship quality. PLAYOFF FATE Despite having the home-court advantage, the Lakers won't be able to get past the Rockets in the first round, not if Houston has returned to full strength. San Antonio Spurs I ' l V Smt' 1 V 1 ROBINSON STARTERS C David Robinson F-Sean Elliott F - Charles Smith G - Vinny Del Negro G Avery Johnson TOP RESERVES Chuck Person, Will Perdue, Doc Rivers, Corey Alexander RECORD -59-23 FINISH - First, Midwest Division COACH - Bob Hill STRENGTHS Spurs have two of the best front-line players in the league in Robinson and Elliott, a capable backcourt in Johnson and Del Negro and a nice variety of bench strength. Playoff-wise team with emotional stability. WEAKNESSES -Spurs miss Rodman's rebounding but have become better at team defense without him. But anything happens to Robinson and it's curtains. PLAYOFF FATE Spurs will win wars with Phoenix and Utah because of consistent defense and Robinson's presence inside. But they won't get by Houston's Rockets in the conference finals. Portland Trail Blazers hi j STRICKLAND STARTERS C Arvydas Sabonis F Harvey Grant F - Clifford Robinson G - Rod Strickland G Aaron McKie TOP RESERVES James Robinson, Buck Williams, Rumeal Robinson, Chris Dudley. RECORD -44-38 FINISH -Third, Pacific Division COACH P.J. Carlesimo STRENGTHS Sabonis has provided a force inside and Strickland can be among the best at running an offense. Clifford Robinson can be devastating. Still a strong rebounding team. WEAKNESSES - Very inconsistent, much having to do with poor communication between coach and players. A lot of streaky players, shot selection is often horrible. Strickland's moodiness a distraction. PLAYOFF FATE - Without home court, Portland won't get past Utah in the first round. It could be interesting, though. Orlando Magic ot f :kf f M '1 I - .nit,,; 4 r A) RECORD -60-22 FINISH - First, Atlantic Division . COACH - Brian Hill. O'NEAL STARTERS C-Shaquille O'Neal F- Horace Grant F - Dennis Scott G Anfernee Hardaway G - Nick Anderson TOP RESERVES Brian Shaw, Joe Wolf, Anthony Bowie, Jon Koncak, Donald Royal. STRENGTHS Obviously, the Magic has the strength inside with Shaq and a terrific point guard in Hardaway. Excellent perimeter shooters and one of the league's highest-scoring teams. WEAKNESSES - There is a problem when Shaq gets into foul trouble or can't make his free throws. A terrible drop-off at center when Koncak comes in. And what will be the Magic's mentality? They still have that four-game sweep by Houston in the last year's Finals hanging over them. PLAYOFF FATE - By all rights, the Magic should have enough to get a crack at the Bulls. And that's where it ends. New York Knicks STRENGTHS - Under Coach Jeff Van Gundy, the Knicks have once again focused on defense. Charles Oakley is well-rested and Patrick Ewing still can be a dominant force in the middle. WEAKNESSES The Knicks are old and given to getting into foul trouble and have a fragile personality. Too many players don't like to be coached and several are given to spending more energy bickering with one another than attacking the opponent. Depth suspect. Chicago Bulls CHICAGO BULLS 4 BULL Si 1? JORDAN STARTERS C - Luc Longley F - Scottie Pippen F - Dennis Rodman G - Michael Jordan G" Ron Harper TOP RESERVES Ton! Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington, Randy Brown, James Edwards. RECORD -72-10 FINISH - First, Central Division COACH - Phil Jackson. STRENGTHS Jackson has been able to mix the all-galaxy talents of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman with the ordinary skills of many other players and make it work beautifully. Truly a team, able to score and defend and retain a pretty level emotional pitch. WEAKNESSES - Rodman's erratic behavior has been the only blight, and he has gone off really only once. Weaknesses, weaknesses. Let's see. There must be one somewhere . . . PLAYOFF FATE - Bulls take out Miami quickly and lose one to the Knicks. It might take six games to knock out Orlando. Cleveland Cavaliers STRENGTHS This is one of the best-coached (Mike Fratello) teams in the league and the one that plays the best defense. Nice collection of team players. Good chemistry has aided overachievement. WEAKNESSES No big guy in the middle, long-range shooting can be an iffy proposition, can't get into up-tempo contests. Bench help can be substantial. Or not. ills Detroit Pistons STRENGTHS Yet another Eastern Conference example of a fine coaching (Doug Collins) job. Good mileage from aging Otis Thorpe, Grant Hill can take over games, the bench seems to contribute with regularity. WEAKNESSES This team has no playoff experience and shooting guard Joe Dumars is in the final throes of his lustrous career. Bench isn't deep. Indiana Pacers STRENGTHS -This is a playoff-seasoned team that is strong inside with Rik Smits and Dale Davis and outside with the perimeter shooting of Reggie Miller. Good bench strength in Antonio Davis and Ricky Pierce. WEAKNESSES The Pacers have not seemed to have their hearts in it this season. Miller's impending free agency has been a distraction. If he's not ready to go because of the eye injury, the Pacers might not get very far. LJ Pacers Atlanta Hawks Atlanta Hawks STRENGTHS Again, coaching (Lenny Wilkens) is the strong point of a team without a force inside. Like Cleveland, hopes are pinned on players understanding their roles and working as a team. Capable of a first-round upset. WEAKNESSES Christian Laettner isn't a long-range answer at center and shooting guard Steve Smith has been awfully streaky. They'll play good defense for the most part. Bench is short. Miami Heat STRENGTHS This is a dangerous team mainly because center Alonzo Mourning is capable of dominating inside. Tim Hardaway can be awesome at point and Rex Chapman can get really hot from outside. Bench is not that bad. WEAKNESSES Because of so much player movement triggered by Coach Pat Riley, these players have yet to become comfortable with one another. It's hard to predict their emotional response to the playoffs. HEAT Compiled by Steve Westonstaff writer I H I'll'- II

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