I tracked down Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban last night before his team's game against the Sacramento Kings at American Airlines Center.

Cuban at the Crossroads: We Can Win the NBA Championship

He was on the StairMaster. Insisting his team isn't on the treadmill.

"Not right now we're not," Cuban told me. "Treadmill teams are those that don't have a realistic chance to win the championship, that are hoping to win 41 games and sneak into 8th spot. That's not us. We're a game or two out of having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. We've got a shot."

As the Mavs - who improved to 31-20 with last night's ho-hum victory over the dreadful Kings - head into this weekend's All-Star Game and next week's trading deadline, it's clear their owner is focused on tweaking his team for a title run rather than blowing it up for a rebuilding project.

In other words, I wouldn't expect any trades involving Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki or, really, even Josh Howard before Feb. 19. Maybe a mini-deal to help ease the Jason Terry void, but not a mega-overhaul.

Cuban, in fact, thinks his team - as currently constituted - has a legit chance at this year's championship.

"Yes," he said through his pouring sweat, "but it will take us getting some breaks."

With their just-completed 6-0 road trip climaxed by consecutive wins in Boston and Cleveland without starting center Andrew Bynum, seems to me the 41-9 Lakers are heads and shoulders above the fray in the Western Conference. And I sense the San Antonio Spurs, who beat the Celtics on Sunday, are about to make their annual push on their rodeo road trip.

Most nights the Mavs, who have quietly gone 29-13 since a 2-7 start and have won six of their last seven, feel like the best of the rest. Other nights - as in recent losses of 34 points to the Bucks, 24 to the Celtics and 28 to the Jazz - they seem one step from the lottery.

But with Dallas good enough/great enough to sniff around the middle of the pack, it makes sense to forge forward instead of taking that irreversible step backward.

Cuban is resolved, far from surrendering. To him, the gap between teams in the West can be measured in fractions.

"The Lakers don't intimidate us at all," he said. "In the West it's going to come down to whoever stays the healthiest and gets hot at the right time."

Concur or not, gotta love his moxie. Right?

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