The first night back out of the All-Star break gate didn't include Caron Butler or Tony Parker and wasn't very successful for Kevin Garnett, who returned from a nine-game absence due to abdominal strain with four points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes in a 124-118 loss in Denver.
The Nuggets drew their largest regular season crowd ever and improved to 12-1 against Eastern Conference opponents, handing the Celtics their first loss in 17 tries against the West. As a result, Denver is back up among the top eight, leaving Golden State without a seat in the conference's cut-throat game of musical chairs.
One debut that did go well was Pau Gasol's first show at Staples Center, playing to a packed that house that seemed to arrive earlier than usual to greet him, not to mention see how Kobe Bryant's right pinkie will hold up. Lakers fans began the 30-game ritual of holding their breath every time he draws contact on that shooting hand, but quickly learned that he's still going to be able to command double teams, deliver nice feeds for easy baskets and play shut-down defense.
Although there's always a chance that he'll re-aggravate the injury, Bryant believes he can do no further damage to the finger by playing and has pledged to deal with the soreness and swelling rather than risk abandoning his team in a playoff race where four games separate the No. 3 seed from missing the playoffs altogether.
Mike Bibby was booed by the boisterous Lakers crowd the first time he touched the ball in an Atlanta uniform and L.A. wound up exploding to a 73-37 halftime lead to spoil their former Sacramento rival's Hawks debut.
The Kings did just fine in their first game without their long-time point guard, winning in Portland's behind Ron Artest's 24 points in what might be his final game wearing his current team's uniform.
All this jockeying for position should become the norm in the Western Conference over the final two months of the season, where "win to get in" has already started. Beating up on the East is practically a pre-requisite, so it was no surprise to see Western teams go 5-0 against the opposing conference.
You can expect at least one more addition to finish up the arms race that Gasol's acquisition kicked off at the start of the month, while the unveilings of Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Kidd with their new teams are on tap Wednesday night.