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NBA Power Rankings: Who's Hot, Who's Not in the Final Stretch

Branden FitzPatrickCorrespondent IApril 10, 2012

NBA Power Rankings: Who's Hot, Who's Not in the Final Stretch

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    The most crucial point of the NBA regular season is finally here—the home stretch before the start of the playoffs. Once the regular season ends, the real NBA season begins. NBA playoff basketball is the best basketball showcase the world has to offer. 

    Some struggling teams are fighting for their lives, trying to hold onto their valuable playoff seeds. Others are beginning to warm up at the right time. The teams that are hot will look to win this season's NBA championship. 

    Here is a list of who's hot and who's not around the league.

Who's Not: Philadelphia 76ers

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    Remember when the Philadelphia 76ers were this season's new darlings?

    That seems like a lifetime ago. 

    Now the 76ers are in danger of missing the playoffs. They've lost four games in a row and seven of their last 10. This isn't just a recent bad streak for the 76ers; since the beginning of March, they've only won eight games. 

    Former 76ers beat writer Kate Fagan wrote that the team has reached the point of tuning head coach Doug Collins out at times. Collins has a history of losing his players. He's a tough, demanding coach in an era where players have the ability to get their coach fired.

    Per Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen:

    "Players today are very sensitive and very fragile," explained Collins, 60, comparing their upbringing to his own on his way to playing eight seasons with the 76ers through 1980-81. "They didn't grow up with tough coaches; I got my ass kicked."

    This team needs to get its act together quickly, or else the Sixers will be watching the Milwaukee Bucks play in the playoffs from the luxury of their couches. 

Who's Not: Sacramento Kings

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    Right when it looks like the Sacramento Kings may have figured it all out, they begin to regress again.

    The Kings won three games in a row for the second time all season in mid-March. They beat the Boston Celtics, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies. Then they went on to lose nine of their next 11 games.

    DeMarcus Cousins, who at times looks like a top-five center in the NBA, confirmed that he still has some growing up to do.

    Grantland's Bill Simmons tweeted:

    Heard Cousins challenged Griffin to a fight in tunnel after Thursday's LAC-Sac game on Thu. Rematch tonight. Don't expect a pregame hug.

    Cousins needs to grow up. Ignore Blake Griffin and play basketball. He has the potential to be an even better center than Andrew Bynum if he can keep his head on straight. You never see Tim Duncan challenging people to fights after the game.

    Just forget and move on.

    To make matters worse, the Kings' owners announced they don't believe they should have to pay for pre-development costs to build the new arena, as reported by ABC affiliate News10. Hopefully the NBA will eventually step in and force them to sell the team.       

Who's Not: Minnesota Timberwolves

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    It's a shame that Blake Griffin started over Kevin Love in the NBA All-Star Game.

    An even bigger shame is how the Timberwolves fell apart after rookie sensation Ricky Rubio went down with a season-ending ACL tear. In the 19 games without Rubio, the Wolves have only won four times. It's tough for a young team to recover from that kind of an injury.

    Rubio wasn't only the starting point guard; he was a breath of hope for a franchise that has struggled for a long time. 

    It's fun to think about what the Wolves could have done had Rubio not been injured. But the reality is the Wolves are now one of the worst teams in the Western Conference.   

Who's Not: Dallas Mavericks

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    Last year's NBA champions are in danger of missing the playoffs. 

    The Dallas Mavericks are in a no-lose situation. All season long they've been playing with a "wait until the playoffs start" attitude. What happens if they don't make the playoffs? Who do they blame?

    Lamar Odom?

    Speaking of Odom, he and the Mavericks recently agreed to a deal where he would leave the team immediately, without actually being released (per ESPN). This way the Mavericks could still trade him after the season.

    The Odom trade backfired in every way possible. The Mavericks gave away their gigantic Tyson Chandler trade exception and lost their first-round pick for a player that did more damage than good.  

Who's Not: Orlando Magic

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    The Orlando Magic have been a soap opera all season long.

    The big story from last week was the crazy interview with Magic's coach Stan Van Gundy, posted on the Magic's website. He told reporters he heard from higher-ups that Dwight Howard wanted him gone, with Howard walking onto the scene just moments later.

    Awkward doesn't even describe the scene. Painful may be the right word. 

    The Magic are facing one of the most difficult situations in NBA history. What do they do with Howard, who has gone from Superman to Lex Luthor in the eyes of the fans? 

    The Magic have fallen to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Just a few weeks ago they had sole possession of the third seed.  

    Because they have Howard, the Magic will still be a postseason threat. But after the season, things will likely go from bad to worse. There's no easy way out of this Howard predicament. 

Who's Hot: New York Knicks

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    Say what you want about Carmelo Anthony—he's not a winner; he's a ball-stopper; he doesn't make his teammates better. One thing you can't take away from him is his late-game chops. Unlike LeBron James, Anthony is not afraid to throw his team on his back and take the last-second shot.

    Other than maybe the Magic, the New York Knicks have experienced more ups and downs this season than any other team. You could write a Harry Potter-sized book about everything that has happened to them since January.

    Anthony sent a message to the rest of the NBA when he drilled the go-ahead three-pointer with 8.2 seconds left in overtime against the Chicago Bulls. He's still a top-10 NBA player, and the Bulls better hope they don't face the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. 

    Anytime a team has a player of Anthony's caliber, they have a shot at doing damage in the playoffs. It's not rocket science, but the team with the best player in a series usually has the best chance of winning.

    Could Anthony outplay either Derrick Rose or James in a playoff series? 

    Absolutely.

    When Anthony hit the game-winning three in Luol Deng's face, it confirmed why teams should always try to trade for elite talent when it's available. You can find a Danilo Gallinari every year in free agency; you can't find a player like Anthony every year.    

Who's Hot: Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies are suddenly the most dangerous team in the Western Conference. They have won eight of their last 10 games. 

    Head coach Lionel Hollins has done a magnificent job this season. Despite losing star player Zach Randolph for a majority of the season due to injury, the Grizzlies hung on tight with solid defense.

    Now that Randolph is back and healthy, Hollins is bringing him off the bench in order to avoid any chemistry issues with the starting unit. Randolph, along with guard O.J. Mayo, gives the Grizzlies the strongest bench in the entire NBA. What other team brings an All-Star-quality big man off the bench?

    Nobody wants the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. At the moment, this is a better team from the one a season ago that took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the second round.   

Who's Hot: San Antonio Spurs

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    Before resting their "Big Three" against the Utah Jazz Monday night, the San Antonio Spurs won 11 games in a row.

    Translation: The Spurs are the hottest team in the NBA.

    They steamed out of nowhere to give the Thunder a run for their money for the top seed in the Western Conference. If any team could beat the Thunder in the playoffs, it would be the battle-tested Spurs. They have more experience and a huge coaching advantage. 

    This is a much better Spurs team from the one that lost to the Grizzlies in the first round a season ago. The bench is incredibly deep, and they have one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

    Remember this: The last time there was a lockout-condensed season, the Spurs won the NBA championship.  

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