NBA Power Rankings: 10 Teams To Watch for the Stretch Playoff Run

Tom Kinslow@@TomKinslowFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2011

NBA Power Rankings: 10 Teams To Watch for the Stretch Playoff Run

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    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06:  Andre Iguodala #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers dunks the ball against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 6, 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    NBA power rankings are here, and we're looking at some of the hottest teams in the Association.

    With the playoffs getting closer and closer, we're taking a look at the teams who are making big pushes into contention, those that are looking to make moves for playoff positioning and teams that are just looking to get into the picture.

    Inside are 10 teams to keep your eyes on down the stretch and if you have any thoughts, as always, leave them below.

    What teams are you keeping your eyes on as the season winds down?

10. New Jersey Nets

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  #8 Deron Williams of the Nets in action during the NBA match between New Jersey Nets and the Toronto Raptors at the O2 Arena on March 4, 2011 in London, England. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
    Warren Little/Getty Images

    While it may seem crazy, you have to pay attention to the New Jersey Nets.

    The Nets, led by Deron Williams, have started to go on a tear and have their sights set on the playoffs. It will be a ridiculous mountain to climb, but with the way this team is playing right now anything is possible, especially in the Eastern Conference.

    New Jersey is 5.5 games out of the eighth spot, so it's going to be a race to the finish, but the Nets aren't done for just yet.

9. New York Knicks

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Carmelo Anthony #7 and Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks talk during a game against the the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    You may laugh, especially considering how the New York Knicks have played as of late, but I'm not writing them off just yet.

    With Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks will still be dangerous down the stretch and into the playoffs, where they will give whatever team they face a handful on a nightly basis. Sure, the Knicks play no defense, but we've seen that on the bigger stages this team can rise to the occasion.

    While people are making a big deal out of New York's latest struggles, I tend not to worry about a team with two players as talented as Anthony and Stoudemire. Throw in Chauncey Billups, who has been banged up, and this team is certainly a threat down the stretch.

8. Los Angeles Lakers

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consen
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Despite the loss to Miami and an injury to Kobe Bryant, you have to keep your eyes on the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The Lakers are surging after the All-Star break and are right on the heels of the Dallas Mavericks for the second-seed in the Western Conference playoffs. With Los Angeles' size and scoring, the Lakers look like the team that won the last two championships.

    It will be interesting to see if this is the team we'll see in the playoffs or if it's just a flash in the pan. My money is on the former.

7. Miami Heat

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    MIAMI - MARCH 14:  Forward LeBron James #6 and guard Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat  against the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena on March 14, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    After the last two monster wins for Miami, it's time to keep our eyes on the Heat.

    Furthermore, this team is only two games out of first place in the Eastern Conference. It is shaping up to be a wild race to the finish as Miami, Boston and Chicago jostle for seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

    With the way Chris Bosh is playing right now, on top of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat are a threat to make it to the NBA Finals. If Miami plays the way it did against San Antonio, the Heat are going to be playing deep into the summer.

6. Chicago Bulls

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 12: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls walks back to the bench after hitting a 3 point shot against the Utah Jazz at the United Center on March 12, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Jazz 118-100. NOTE TO USER: User ex
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Another team right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference is the Chicago Bulls.

    Led by MVP-frontrunner Derrick Rose, the Bulls are in second place in the Eastern Conference and neck-and-neck behind the Boston Celtics for first place. With Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah playing great basketball, this team has become a force to be reckoned with.

    The Bulls can compete with any of the top teams in this league, especially considering how well this team is playing defense under head coach Tom Thibodeau. He has taken mediocre-to-average defensive players and gotten them to buy into a team defensive system, and it has made the Bulls a contender.

    Watch out for the Bulls. This team is going to be exciting to watch going forward.

5. Houston Rockets

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 01:  Luis Scola #4 of the Houston Rockets is defended by Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half at Staples Center on February 1, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Rockets 114-106. NOTE
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    After underachieving and dealing with injuries for most of the season, the Houston Rockets are making a late push for the playoffs.

    The Rockets are 7-3 over their last 10 games and Houston is currently three games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. This is a team with plenty of talent, and with the other teams in front of them struggling with injuries and other issues, this has kept the door open for the Rockets.

    Houston can score and can crash the glass on both ends of the floor, and they are unselfish with the ball.

    That sounds like a playoff team to me.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder brings the ball up the floor against the Washington Wizards  during the first half at the Verizon Center on March 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    With Kendrick Perkins finally in the lineup for the Oklahoma City Thunder, it's time to see what this team is made of.

    Perkins is going to give the Thunder the inside toughness the team had been lacking. When you add in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scoring from the outside and the emergence of Serge Ibaka in the middle, you have a team that is ready to make the leap to the next level over the next month or so and into the playoffs.

    Durant is playing great basketball and is slowly crawling back into the MVP race. The man is simply a scoring machine and has been dominant after a monster season last year.

3. Denver Nuggets

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 12:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets welcomes teammates J.R. Smith #5 and Raymond Felton #20 to the bench for a time out against the Detroit Pistons at the Pepsi Center on March 12, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Pist
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Don't look now, but here come the Denver Nuggets.

    Since trading Carmelo Anthony to New York, the Nuggets have gone on a tear and are currently fifth in the Western Conference. This wasn't expected by most people, who thought that Denver would be done for without its superstar in the lineup.

    This is a team that no one wants to see in the first round of the playoffs, and a series between the Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder would be must-see television.

2. Memphis Grizzlies

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    MIAMI - MARCH 12:  Guard Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlie chats with the referee against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 12, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Even without Rudy Gay in the lineup, the Memphis Grizzlies haven't stopped playing at a high level.

    The Grizzlies are hanging on to the final spot in the Western Conference without one of the team's best players in Gay. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been dominant down low for Memphis, and Lionel Hollins has done an excellent job getting this team to play top-notch basketball.

    When Gay returns to the lineup, this team is going to be a squad that can make some noise in the playoffs.

1. Philadelphia 76ers

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Doug Collins of the Philadelphia 76ers calls out in the second half against the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on January 3, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    One of the most stunning transformations this year has been the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Under Doug Collins, the Sixers have turned into a team that has shot up the Eastern Conference standings and are currently just a game out of the sixth seed. Philadelphia beat the Boston Celtics just nights after giving the Oklahoma City Thunder a huge run for its money.

    Collins is pushing all of the right buttons and is getting the most out of his players, and he is looking more and more like the Coach of the Year in the NBA.

    Philadelphia will make noise down the stretch, so keep your eyes on this upstart team.