That's the way baseball go, sure. But baseball go where baseball players take it, and only with a manager they trust and respect can they take it to the heights the Rangers have in recent years. Ron Washington is that manager. He's the consummate players' coach, rarely uttering a word in public that doesn't support his guys, and resisting the urge to tinker, whether with lineups or the flow of the game. With a roster like the one he's armed with, this is the only viable strategy, and he sticks by it through thick and thin. Which is why, with the Rangers, there's been a lot of thick for three years running.

This one was the Mavericks' to lose after their improbable title run last year, and lose it they did. Owner Mark Cuban dismantled key elements of the team's championship roster, bidding farewell to center Tyson Chandler and winding up with a team that barely limped into the playoffs. Give credit, though, where credit is due. The Rangers, after reaching the World Series in consecutive years, are still in close-to-championship form. Manager Ron Washington, general manager Jon Daniels and owner/baseball god Nolan Ryan have proven themselves as a deft management team. There's no reason to think the team won't go deep into the postseason. All this just two years after Tom Hicks ran the team into bankruptcy. Go figure.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, but it is: Dirk Nowitzki is, and may be for the foreseeable future, the best basketball player in town. It's not always pretty. He's lumbering, he's falling away, he's in desperate need of a haircut. But it works — especially the falling away and the jump shot it enables — and it will work even better if his bosses' off-season moves prove more successful than they look on paper.

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