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Even without Shaq, West still loaded

Updated: July 23, 2004, 9:42 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

It seemed like an easy assignment when SportsCenter called last week. In the wake of the Lakers' disintegration, the producers wanted a list of my top five teams in each conference. They basically wanted an abridged version of the Power Rankings in July.

Then I commenced power-ranking and encountered two immediate problems.

Problem No. 1: There are 12 legitimate playoff contenders in the West, and no obvious pecking order after you get past San Antonio and Minnesota in the top two ...

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