Western Conference predictions

Updated: October 10, 2002, 10:55 AM ET
By By Terry Brown
1. Sacramento Kings
Projected Record: 62-20
2002 Record: 61-21 (No. 1)
Envy their skill level, their depth, their blend of complementary players but not the fact that they are defending a title they have yet to win. You take what you can get when any semifinal matchup is against one of the top four teams in the league. Talent got them to within a single point of an NBA Championship but demons never have counted buckets. Of course, we're talking about Chris Webber. He will either have his greatest season ever as a player counting grade school, club, prep, college and pro . . . or his worst. And it will have little to do with his point per game average.

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Projected Record: 60-22
2002 Record: 58-24 (No. 2)
This team is specifically designed to win 15 games at the end of the season without ever losing two in a row. Home, away, on the third moon of Jupiter. Doesn't matter. It has been 37 years since any NBA team has claimed four titles in a row and that was back when the Celtics turned it twice by 1966 A.D. You probably weren't even born yet. Chances are, neither was your dad. Regular-season titles, individual accolades and any other door prizes the league sees fit to hand out are undercard at best. Undisputed and still reigning . . .

3. Dallas Mavericks
Projected Record: 59-23
2002 Record: 57-25 (No. 4)
Just need to get punched in the mouth a few more times until they decide that they're not going to get punched in the mouth anymore. Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki don't need to get better. They just need to get meaner. Scoring a 100 points a game isn't enough anymore. Unless, of course, you're rubbing somebody's nose in it by drilling threes at the buzzer to go up by 24 while leaving your home locker room door open just a crack so your opponent can peep the leather recliners, big screen TVs and palm leaves as they walk by.