But the week's most significant development occurred in New Jersey, where Nenad Krstic tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. The injury is a serious blow for the New Jersey Nets, who were expected to eventually pull away from a division full of lousy teams. But Krstic's injury pulls the Nets back to the pack, and now the Atlantic Division is more up (or down) for grabs than ever.
The hard part is figuring out which team will eventually win the division. The Boston Celtics will be without Paul Pierce the next few weeks due to a stress fracture in his left foot. The Philadelphia 76ers are now A.I.-less. The New York Knicks had a nice week, but they're still the Knicks. Maybe the Toronto Raptors will find a way to pull off a surprise behind T.J. Ford.
As the old cliché goes, "May the best team win." But in this case, perhaps the more appropriate phrase is, "May the least bad team survive."
Here's a look at this week's rankings (records and statistics are through Dec. 24):
1. Dallas Mavericks (20-7, Last ranking: 4) – Erick Dampier scored 22 points in Seattle as the Mavericks won without Dirk Nowitzki, who had sprained an ankle. Dampier has been a force inside for the Mavs, shooting 68 percent this season.
3. Phoenix Suns (18-7, Last ranking: 3) – It took Mother Nature to finally stop the Suns. They had their 15-game win streak snapped after being stranded in Denver for three days due to snow, then going "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" all day back to Phoenix and arriving just in time to lose to the Wizards in overtime.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (18-9, Last ranking: 5) – What a comeback for L.A. Down 10 to start the fourth quarter, the Lakers outscored Minnesota 25-4 without Kobe Bryant and pulled away for a win. The strong bench play (42 points for the reserves) continued in a win over the Nets.
5. Detroit Pistons (17-8, Last ranking: 6) – Ben Wallace's departure hasn't exactly left the Pistons defenseless. They took apart the Cavaliers on Thursday and held them to 71 points. Detroit looks like the class of the East.
6. Utah Jazz (20-8, Last ranking: 2) – Mehmet Okur's 30 points led a huge fourth-quarter comeback as the Jazz came from 21 down to beat Atlanta. But Utah couldn't duplicate the feat in Charlotte and lost to the lowly Bobcats on Friday.
8. Washington Wizards (14-12, Last ranking: 12) – The Wizard of Odd, The Hibachi … whatever the nickname, Gilbert Arenas is unstoppable. He scored 60 against the Lakers and then went for 54 in the Phoenix win. Wow.
9. Houston Rockets (16-11, Last ranking: 8) – No luck for the Rockets. With Tracy McGrady already on the shelf, Yao Ming will miss at least six weeks after fracturing his knee in a loss to the Clippers on Saturday. Can Houston survive without him?
10. Denver Nuggets (14-10, Last ranking: 11) – Neither the snow storm nor a loss to Sacramento could dampen the spirits of Nuggets fans this week. A.I. looks good in powder blue, doesn't he? And the best part of his debut? Ten assists in the loss to the Kings.
11. Orlando Magic (17-12, Last ranking: 9) – Since the Magic's hot start, they have lost eight of their last 12 games. With the Wizards playing well and Shaquille O'Neal set to return for Miami next month, Orlando needs to pick up the pace in the Southeast.
13. Indiana Pacers (15-14, Last ranking: 13) – The Pacers have stayed within two games of .500 (on either side) all season. I'm guessing they finish 41-41.
15. Milwaukee Bucks (13-14, Last ranking: 22) – Four wins in a row for the Bucks, and Mo Williams is putting up LeBron-type numbers. He's averaged 25 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in his last five games, and he had his first career triple double in a blowout of Miami.
16. Golden State Warriors (14-15, Last ranking: 17) – The Warriors survived a six-game road trip by winning in Boston and Orlando. Now they have to take advantage of their next six games, all of which are against sub-.500 teams.
17. Portland Trail Blazers (12-15, Last ranking: 19) – The Blazers won five straight games for the first time in two and a half years but lost a heartbreaker to Toronto to end the streak. Brandon Roy is back and giving his team a lift.
20. New Orleans Hornets (11-15, Last ranking: 15) – Injuries are taking a toll on the Hornets. They've lost 12 of their last 15.games and have been without Peja Stojakovic, David West and Bobby Jackson.
21. Toronto Raptors (12-16, Last ranking: 24) – Good week for T.J. Ford. He hit the game-winning jumper against the Clippers, then went for 23 points and 10 assists in a victory over Portland. Chris Bosh is due back this week, so things are looking up for Canada's team.
23. New York Knicks (12-18, Last ranking: 27) – Maybe the fight motivated the Knicks. Consecutive buzzer-beating wins over Utah and Charlotte were followed by a nice victory over the hot Bulls. David Lee is owning the glass; he averaged 18 boards a game during the three-game winning streak.
26. Boston Celtics (10-15, Last ranking: 20) – Just when the Celtics started to roll, Paul Pierce hurt his foot and will miss two to three weeks.
27. Atlanta Hawks (9-17, Last ranking: 26) – The Hawks have lost all four games since Tyronn Lue went down with a groin injury. They're having a terrible time trying to hold on to fourth-quarter leads.
28. Philadelphia 76ers (7-19, Last ranking: 30) – With Allen Iverson gone, Andre Iguodala is the focal point of the Sixers offense. His career-high 31 points and nine assists helped Philly beat Boston and snap a 12-game losing streak
29. Charlotte Bobcats (7-19, Last ranking: 28) – Tough week ahead. Dallas, Washington, Lakers and Indiana loom.
30. Memphis Grizzlies (6-22, Last ranking: 29) – The good news? Pau Gasol had 28 and nine against New Orleans in his best game since his return from injury. The bad news? The Grizzlies are buried at the bottom of the West standings and going nowhere.
- Gilbert Arenas