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ON THE NBA/BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Tip-off of 2019-20 NBA season not far away, and odds are ...

PMG FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Trail Blazers, with Damian Lillard (left) to lead them, and the Los Angeles Lakers, with LeBron James, are strong NBA Western Conference contenders ... but neither is the preseason favorite.Whoa, how time flies.

Seems like it was yesterday when Golden State pulled out a 119-117 overtime victory at Moda Center to complete a four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.

It was actually four months ago, and the lads in the sleeveless tops, shorts and sneakers are back at it again.

The Blazers begin practice Tuesday with aspirations of advancing even further in the 2020 playoffs — read: the NBA Finals.

They have plenty of company in the West, where the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers have vaulted into favorite's roles in unprecedented fashion. Never before have teams that finished No. 8 and No. 10 in the conference the previous regular season been the consensus pick to go 1-2 during the next campaign.

Both teams now possess superstar tandems — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers, LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers — and suddenly the balance of the conference has tilted toward LaLa Land.

That doesn't mean there aren't bona fide contenders, including Portland, which has a half-dozen important new faces from a year ago.

Denver, Utah and Houston are other teams expected to finish ahead of the Warriors, whose run of five straight NBA Finals appearances is likely to end with the defection of Kevin Durant and the ACL knee surgery to Klay Thompson.

Last season, eight teams in the West won 48 games or more, the first time that had happened since 2013-14 and only the second time since 2009-10. That won't repeat this season unless a couple of these four teams — the Warriors, San Antonio, New Orleans or Sacramento — rise above expectations. Six teams could win 50 games for the first time since 2014-15, though, and there would seem to be 10 teams with reasonable aspirations for a winning season.

Here's a team-by-team prospective along with my very early predictions on what could happen with the West's regular season:

1. Denver Nuggets

Record in 2018-19: 54-28.

Playoffs: Lost in West semifinals.

Gained: Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr., Tyler Zeller.

Lost: Trey Lyles.

Outlook: The Nuggets return virtually everybody and gain Grant and the 6-10 Porter, the No. 14 pick of the 2018 draft who missed all of his rookie season with a back injury. If Porter stays healthy and makes a sizable contribution off the bench as hoped, it enhances the Nuggets' depth. Even if not, Denver is a legitimate threat to win the conference.

Predicted record: 58-24.

2. Portland Trail Blazers

Record in 2018-19: 53-29.

Playoffs: Lost in West finals.

Gained: Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja, Anthony Tolliver, Pau Gasol.

Lost: Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, Enes Kanter, Jake Layman.

Outlook: Counting on Zach Collins to be the starting power forward, Anfernee Simons to be a productive third guard in his second season and Whiteside, Bazemore and Hezonja all to make important contributions, Portland is in position to reach the conference finals for the second straight year.

Predicted record: 55-27.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Record in 2018-19: 48-34.

Playoffs: Lost in first round.

Gained: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Moe Harkless, Patrick Patterson.

Lost: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley.

Outlook: The Clippers have depth, star power and the right coach in Doc Rivers, but chemistry might be an issue as the players get used to one another. By playoff time, though, they could be the best in the West.

Predicted record: 54-28.

4. Utah Jazz

Record in 2018-19: 50-32.

Playoffs: Lost in first round.

Gained: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis.

Lost: Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha.

Outlook: Great stability with Conley and Bogdanovic joining Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles in one of the league's best starting fives. With improved 3-point shooting, they'll have a chance to win every night out.

Predicted record: 53-29.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Record in 2018-19: 37-45.

Playoffs: None.

Gained: Anthony Davis, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, Jared Dudley.

Lost: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart.

Outlook: Any team with Davis and James is in contention for a title, but it will be the performance of the supporting cast that will leave the Lakers either title-worthy or merely another contender.

Predicted record: 52-30.

6. Houston Rockets

Record in 2018-19: 53-29.

Playoffs: Lost in West semifinals.

Gained: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Tyson Chandler.

Lost: Chris Paul.

Outlook: With Westbrook, James Harden, Clint Capela and Eric Gordon leading the way, the Rockets could very well finish higher than sixth in the conference. Westbrook and Harden played together once upon a time, but something tells me coach Mike D'Antoni is still going to have his hands full in the deportment department.

Predicted record: 50-32.

7. Golden State Warriors

Record in 2018-19: 57-25.

Playoffs: Lost in NBA Finals.

Gained: D'Angelo Russell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III.

Lost: Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell.

Outlook: Stephen Curry and Draymond Green won't let the Warriors go down without a fight, and Russell could thrive under Steve Kerr. But it feels like Golden State simply doesn't have the horses for the first time in six years.

Predicted record: 47-35.

8. San Antonio Spurs

Record in 2018-19: 48-34.

Playoffs: Lost in first round.

Gained: DeMarre Carroll, Trey Lyles.

Lost: Davis Bertans.

Outlook: For the second straight year, the Spurs have failed to replenish their roster. They need LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan to continue to play at an All-Star level, and for point guard Dejounte Murray, back after missing 2018-19 following ACL knee surgery, to step up big time if they are to make the playoffs again.

Predicted record: 45-37.

9. Sacramento Kings

Record in 2018-19: 39-43.

Playoffs: None.

Gained: Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph, Dewayne Dedmon.

Lost: Willie Cauley-Stein.

Outlook: The Kings, who improved from 27 wins in 2017-18 to 39 wins last year, kept the nucleus together, with De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley leading the way. If the Warriors or Spurs falter, they could sneak into the postseason.

Predicted record: 43-39.

10. New Orleans Pelicans

Record in 2018-19: 33-49.

Playoffs: None.

Gained: Zion Williamson, J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, Josh Hart.

Lost: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle.

Outlook: The Pelicans lost their two best players, but they added an intriguing complement of talent featuring the best incoming rookie in years in Williamson.

Predicted record: 41-41.

11. Dallas Mavericks

Record in 2018-19: 33-49.

Playoffs: None.

Gained: Kristaps Porzingis, Seth Curry, Delon Wright, Boban Marjanovic.

Lost: Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki.

Outlook: What fun it will be to see Porzingis — who missed all of last season after ACL knee surgery — and Luka Doncic in action together this year. Dallas is a year away from playoff contention.

Predicted record: 39-43.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder

Record in 2018-19: 49-33.

Playoffs: Lost in first round.

Gained: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari.

Lost: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Patrick Patterson.

Outlook: Much is up in the air with the Thunder, who may or may not have Paul for the duration of the season. With Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, Gallinari, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder, though, there is enough talent for some forays into the win column.

Predicted record: 37-45.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves

Record in 2018-19: 36-46.

Playoffs: None.

Gained: Jake Layman. Jordan Bell.

Lost: Dario Saric, Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones.

Outlook: Karl-Anthony Towns is an All-Star, and Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague have their talents, but this just seems like a team that has stalled and is headed the wrong way.

Predicted record: 34-48.

14. Phoenix Suns

Record in 2018-19: 19-63.

Playoffs: None.

Gained: Dario Saric, Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky.

Lost: T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson.

Outlook: The Suns have three excellent young pieces in Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre, and they've added Rubio and Saric. All of that is not going to help first-year coach Monty Williams lift Phoenix into a contender — at least not yet.

Predicted record: 30-52.

15. Memphis Grizzlies

Record in 2018-19: 33-49.

Playoffs: None.

Gained: Josh Jackson, Tyus Jones, Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke.

Lost: Mike Conley, Tyler Zeller, Delon Wright.

Outlook: Nobody seems to want to play for the Grizzlies right now. It will be a dark season enlightened only by the development of promising rookies Morant and Clarke.

Predicted record: 21-61.

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@kerryeggers


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