Mark Cuban

If any NBA fanbase has a right to feel that their team is being disrespected, it’s the fans of the Dallas Mavericks. Quick, name your top four NBA championship favourites. Let me guess: Lakers, Celtics, Heat and Spurs, right? The Mavs are 24-5 and have the second-best record in the NBA, and yet I bet they wouldn’t make most people’s top four list.

One of the main reasons the Mavericks are off to such a hot start this season is the MVP-quality play of Dirk Nowitzki. As fate would have it, he’ll miss his first game of the season tonight after he sprained his knee in last night’s win over the Thunder. Without Dirk, the Mavs go from one of the elite teams in the league to probably just an above-average squad. Of course, that’s probably still good enough to beat the Raptors.

Injury report

Toronto: Andrea Bargnani is out, Sonny Weems is questionable, Amir Johnson is probable.

Dallas: Dirk will rest his knee and Rodrigue Beaubois is out indefinitely recovering from foot surgery.

Five questions

1. Are the Mavericks the hottest team in the league right now? They’ve won five straight and 17 of their last 18 games.

2. How different would the fortunes of the Mavericks and Raptors be this season if Michael Jordan hadn’t cancelled the trade that would have brought Tyson Chandler to Toronto instead of Dallas?

3. Without Andrea Bargnani, how will the Raptors score against a tough Mavericks defence that forces you to try to break their zone? Dallas allows their opponents a .434 FG% this season, tied for second-best in the league.

4. How much is Amir Johnson’s back affecting him? Since he scored 12 points in the first quarter of the Raptors’ Dec. 19 game against the Lakers before his back seized up, he’s gone 2-for-12 for four points in 68 minutes of playing time.

5. If the Mavericks ever win the NBA championship while David Stern is still the league commissioner, how drunk will Stern have to get before he presents the Larry O’Brien trophy to Mark Cuban?

Start time: 8:30 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet One
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Joey Dorsey, Amir Johnson
Dallas: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler

Your pregame song for tonight is “If I Only Had a Brain” by MC 900ft Jesus. I just learned he was from Dallas, but besides his hometown, this is a fun video from the ’90s directed by Spike Jonze that you probably haven’t seen unless you’re around my age.