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Separation anxiety

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Team of the Week
New Jersey Nets – The Nets won four straight games, finally reaching the .500 mark on the season. Jason Kidd has elevated his game, filling up the stat sheet and carrying his team on his back.

Quote of the Week
Allen Iverson talking about Portland's Sergio Rodriquez after the rookie recorded 23 points and 10 assists against Denver – "If he stays with it, the sky's the limit for him."

Game of the Week
Friday: Denver Nuggets at Utah JazzCarmelo Anthony's third game back from his suspension is a biggie: a matchup with the division-leading Jazz. If the Nuggets are going to win the Northwest Division title, this is a crucial game for them.

A year ago at the halfway point of the NBA season, Detroit was running away from the rest of the league with a 35-6 record. What does that have to do with this season? Well, it proves that things change quickly.

What looked like a probable Pistons championship run unraveled late in May, and Miami – a team that struggled through the first half of the year – took home the Larry O'Brien Trophy. In other words, whatever is going on now may not matter in June.

Still, what is apparent halfway through this season is that there aren't very many good teams out there. Dallas and Phoenix are both fantastic and San Antonio and Miami figure to improve, but who else is there? The Lakers are ranked fifth this week, but they keep losing to lousy teams. The Rockets? Too many injuries. Cleveland? Still young. Chicago? No inside game. Utah? Maybe.

There's a long way to go, and maybe one of those teams (or another one) will emerge. But at this point, it looks like Dallas, Phoenix and everyone else.

Here's a look at this week's rankings (records and statistics are through Jan. 21):

1. Dallas Mavericks (34-8, Last ranking: 1) – Devean George and Greg Buckner are giving the Mavs great defense and versatile depth off the bench.

2. Phoenix Suns (32-8, Last ranking: 2) – The Suns have lost two games since November 18. They'll get a chance at payback for one of those losses this week: They play the Wizards on Tuesday in D.C.

3. San Antonio Spurs (29-13, Last ranking: 3) – The Spurs are falling further and further behind the Mavs in the Southwest Division, but they know they can win on the road come playoff time.

4. Utah Jazz (27-14, Last ranking: 8) – Nice bounce-back week for the Jazz. After four straight losses, they beat Detroit, Toronto and Chicago, all on the road.

5. Los Angeles Lakers (26-15, Last ranking: 6) – More of the same for the Lakers. A win over San Antonio, a loss to the Hornets. Who knows what this team is going to do?

6. Washington Wizards (24-16, Last ranking: 10) – After a mini-slump, Gilbert Arenas rebounded with 51 points and another game-winning three-pointer against Utah.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-16, Last ranking: 5) – The Cavs salvaged a 3-4 record on their western swing with an overtime victory in Oakland. But how did they lose by 18 points in Portland?

8. Houston Rockets (25-16, Last ranking: 4) – The Rockets couldn't stand up to the big boys. They went 0-3 last week in losing to Dallas, Phoenix and Denver.

9. Detroit Pistons (23-16, Last ranking: 7) – Chris Webber stepped right into the starting lineup and played well for the Pistons: 16 and 7 against Minnesota and a double-double against Sacramento, both in winning efforts.

10. Chicago Bulls (23-18, Last ranking: 11) – When they make jump shots, they win. When they don't, they lose. Thirty-eight-percent shooting did the Bulls in against Utah.

11. Denver Nuggets (20-17, Last ranking: 15) – The Nuggets wanted to tread water while Carmelo Anthony was out, and they did. A 7-8 record in his absence put them right where they need to be. He comes back Monday.

12. New Jersey Nets (20-20, Last ranking: 17) – More bad news for the Nets despite the 4-0 week: Richard Jefferson will undergo ankle surgery and is out indefinitely.

13. Miami Heat (18-22, Last ranking: 14) – Jason Kapono is as close to automatic as anyone in the NBA: 54 percent from the three-point line.

14. Orlando Magic (22-19, Last ranking: 9) – Five losses in a row for the Magic, and they have Cleveland and Dallas next.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-19, Last ranking: 12) – Beating Phoenix was going to be hard enough, but the Wolves had to attempt it without K.G., who was suspended for Sunday's game after throwing a punch at Antonio McDyess in Detroit.

16. Los Angeles Clippers (19-21, Last ranking: 16) – Pretty simple equation: If Sam Cassell is healthy, the Clippers are good. If he's not, they're average at best.

17. Toronto Raptors (19-22, Last ranking: 18) – Seven of the next nine games are at home for the Raptors. They need to keep pace with the streaking Nets.

18. New York Knicks (18-24, Last ranking: 19) – Eddy Curry is starting to dominate the block. In his last five games, he's averaging 22 points and getting to the free-throw line 10 times per game.

19. Golden State Warriors (19-22, Last ranking: 20) – The good news for Stephen Jackson, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Al Harrington is that they won't need to learn any new plays. Don Nelson doesn't run any.

20. Indiana Pacers (20-20, Last ranking: 13) – Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy will be a better fit in Indiana than they were in Golden State. How long will the adjustment take, though?

21. New Orleans Hornets (16-23, Last ranking: 22) – David West is back, and he made his presence felt in a hurry: 19 and 11 against the Spurs, 26 and 12 in a win over the Lakers.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (14-25, Last ranking: 24) – With Raymond Felton out, Jeff McInnis stepped into the point guard spot and led the Bobcats to two wins.

23. Portland Trail Blazers (17-25, Last ranking: 25) – The Blazers got their best win of the season last week against Cleveland. They held the Cavs to 74 points on 35-percent shooting.

24. Seattle SuperSonics (16-25, Last ranking: 27) – Three wins in a row for the Sonics, including victories over Utah and Cleveland.

25. Atlanta Hawks (13-25, Last ranking: 26) – Apparently the Hawks don't like playing Charlotte. They lost back-to-back games against the Bobcats last week by a combined 40 points.

26. Sacramento Kings (15-23, Last ranking: 21) – Ron Artest made his return to the scene of the crime Saturday, but the Kings lost big to Detroit at the Palace.

27. Milwaukee Bucks (17-23, Last ranking: 23) – New Buck Earl Boykins is literally hit or miss: 30 points on 9-for-16 shooting against Charlotte, a combined 5-for-27 in consecutive losses and then 28 points on 8-for-19 from the field against Portland.

28. Philadelphia 76ers (11-30, Last ranking: 29) – Willie Green is getting his chance to play, and he's making the most of it. He's averaged 17 a game in his last eight.

29. Boston Celtics (12-27, Last ranking: 28) – Are the Celtics ever going to be good again?

30. Memphis Grizzlies (10-31, Last ranking: 30) – In the midst of a lousy season for the Grizzlies, Mike Miller is playing at a very high level: 17.5 points per game on 47-percent shooting.