LOS ANGELES _ The much-anticipated NBA season is in our midst and in the short build up to a rushed season many faces have switched teams, including those on the reigning champion Dallas Mavericks.

“I think our goal cannot be to be the best team right now,” Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki said. “Our goal is to get better and also better game to game. Hopefully by April, May and June we can be back to where we were last year.”

After almost having to cancel the season, the league and players union agreed on a last-minute collective-bargaining deal which resulted in an abbreviated 66-game schedule, starting yesterday.

“We weren’t really blessed with that much time to do it any different unless you wanted less games, so it kind of is what it is,” said Los Angeles Clippers new guard Chauncey Billups.

“The good thing about it is we’re not the only team that’s dealing with it; everybody is.”

Dallas caught fire last year and beat the Miami Heat for the NBA title but they have a big hole to fill with the loss of Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea.

Fortunately their core players remain the same and will be pleased to accept their championship rings in front of the Heat at home on opening day.

That’s why Dallas sits alongside the Chicago Bulls, the Heat, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City, as favourites to win this year’s title.

Not included in that list for the first time in several years is the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers actually helped strengthen the Mavericks by giving them Lamar Odom in a panicked trade after the league refused the Chris Paul deal to the Lakers _ a decision which was heavily criticised by Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

Without legendary coach Phil Jackson, the often-injured Andrew Bynum suspended for the first four games of the season, and Bryant suffering a right wrist injury before the season has even begun, it seems the only way the Lakers can go is down.

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