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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