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Merry Christmas!

Will Dirk suck or blow this season? Neither, of course. Odds are good he'll be the NBA's MVP. Good, not great.

Yeah, yeah. Happy Halloween. Whatever. Tonight's the night we get to unwrap a brand spankin' new NBA season. If karma is has a heart, in eight shorts months our Mavericks will finally win the championship so rudely dangled before them--and us--last summer.

First things first. While the Miami Heat--remember them?--get their rings and tip-off the season tonight against the Chicago Bulls, Dallas actually doesn't play its first game until Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs--remember them? So what's new for 2006-07? There's a new ball that apparently doesn't bounce, and Mavs owner Mark Cuban said no to a satellite-radio show and yes to a juicy little feud with ol' pal Don Nelson.

Our hoops sources say the radio reneg was a reaction to commish David Stern, at the behest of owners, telling Cubes to chill it down this season. And our other hoops sources remind us that Nellie and Cuban haven't liked each other for a very, very long time. Should be extremely interesting/awkward when Nellie's Golden State Warriors visit the AAC Monday night and the Mavs raise a Western Conference Championship banner he sorta helped win.

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Said Cuban of Nelson recently, "Nellie loves to be the underdog, and Nellie loves to get paid." Said Nelson of Cuban recently, "There's no dislike on my part. I wish we were closer, but we really grew apart and it didn't end like we had planned all along." In another strange twist, Nelson remains a Mavs season-ticket holder and owner of a condo atop the W hotel.

As for on the court instead of in court, the Mavs are the NBA's second-best team, according to a survey of league general managers . GMs pick the Spurs to win it all but the Mavs to win the Southwest Division. They also like Dirk Nowitzki to finish third (again) in the MVP balloting, behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade--remember him? Dallas' Del Harris was voted best assistant coach, and Dirk the best international player.

According to the real experts, the money machine over at Pinnacle Sports, James is a 2-1 favorite to win MVP, well ahead of longshots Dirk (8-1), reigning two-time MVP Steve Nash (13-1, sounds like a bargain to me), Allen Iverson (35-1) and Yao Ming (43-1). Looking for some other good gambles? Psst, lay $100 on the Mavs to win it all and collect $450 when they claim the title. Or, if you're trying to land a big fish with a small worm, $100 on the Charlotte Bobcats to win it all would net you $50,000. Hey, stranger things have happened. No, take it back. Actually, they haven't. --Richie Whitt

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