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, beginning Christmas Day.
Because of the lockout teams have had a little more than two weeks and just two exhibition games to get ready.
"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. All the things we're complaining about, they're dealing with it too."
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 Jose Barea.
Fortunately their core players remain the same and will be pleased to accept their championship rings in front of the Heat at home in one of five games on opening day.
That's why Dallas is one of five teams, including the Chicago Bulls, the Heat, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City, who have the best chance at winning the title.
Not included in that list for the first time in several years is the Los Angeles Lakers who actually helped strengthen the Mavericks by giving them Lamar Odom in a panicked trade after the league nixed the Chris Paul deal to the Lakers.
The trade was heavily criticized by Lakers star Kobe Bryant who should have more to say when Los Angeles faces the Mavericks for the first time this season on January 16.
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.
Bryant says he is going to try and play on Saturday with a torn ligament in his wrist.
"It's always been in my nature to try and figure out a way to play," Bryant said.
"It's not really going to heal. It's gone. The ligament's gone. There's nothing I can do about it. But I've dealt with so many hand injuries, it should be all right."
Across town the Los Angeles Clippers can't wait to get the season started. Not only have they added the most dynamic point guard in the league in Paul and proven winner Billups, but NBA rookie-of-the year Blake Griffin will be a year older and should be headed for another all-star campaign.
Two victories over the Lakers in the shortened exhibition schedule also helped boost their confidence heading into their season opener on Saturday against Golden State.
There should be plenty of drama on opening day as the other games comprise, Lakers hosting Chicago, Boston at New York and Orlando at Oklahoma City.
The Thunder had the good fortune of having every key player from last season back, including Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant is shooting for his third-consecutive scoring crown and he has a solid supporting cast that includes guards Westbrook and James Harden, shot blocker Serge Ibaka and big man Kendrick Perkins.
Durant is one of four players, along with Chicago's Derrick Rose, Miami's LeBron James and Clippers' Paul, who have a shot at the league MVP award.
The Lakers aren't the only team on the decline. San Antonio's starting lineup has an average age of 31 and the window of opportunity could be closing for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Co. Ditto for the aging Boston Celtics.
Denver will have to start the season without Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, JR Smith who signed contracts to play in China until March.
This will also be the first season for the Houston Rockets since China's Yao Ming announced his retirement.