The Mavericks provided NBA fans with a run through last season's playoffs that few will soon forget. Dirk Nowitzki's postseason for the ages included a six-game victory over the widely despised Miami Heat.
The defending champions have only recently come to resemble that form, however, with a winning streak that pushed them back into contention in the Southwest Division. The Mavs are still looking up in the standings at the Spurs, but they're much closer than they were two weeks ago.
Not surprisingly, Nowitzki has been a crucial part of the push, scoring at least 20 points in eight of the last nine games. Could the oldest group of players in the NBA finally be playing itself into contending shape?
The young Oklahoma City Thunder would probably say, "not so fast." Behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder haven't lost consecutive games since Jan. 2-3 and are in a battle with the Heat for the best record in the NBA. They're being challenged for the West's top seed by the Spurs, who just seem to keep coming with a new hero every night. The only reason San Antonio has held onto the top spot in the division over the Mavericks right now is because the Spurs have a 10-game win streak.
As usual, many believe the path to the NBA Finals goes through Los Angeles. Unlike in past years, however, the Lakers aren't the only L.A. team opponents may have to worry about.
The Clippers, not the Lakers, are the best team in L.A. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have transformed the Clip Joint into Lob City, with an offense that is virtually unstoppable for any team not completely disciplined on defense.