Time running out for teams clinging to playoff hopes
(Reuters) - Just nine of the 16 playoff spots in the National Basketball Association (NBA) remain up for grabs after the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors secured their places in the postseason over the weekend.
The Raptors and Bulls joined the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs while the Clippers followed the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder into the Western Conference postseason.
Another two Eastern playoff teams could be decided later on Monday. The idle Brooklyn Nets could clinch if the New York Knicks lost to the Utah Jazz while the Washington Wizards could join the playoffs with either a win over the Charlotte Bobcats or a Knicks loss.
The Boston Celtics may find themselves officially out of the race with a loss to Chicago coupled with a win by either the Atlanta Hawks or Knicks.
The Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention in the Eastern conference.
While not mathematically assured of making the playoffs, the Bobcats, 4-1/2 games ahead of the ninth-seeded Knicks, appear to have a big enough cushion before the regular season ends on April 16.
That left the Hawks, one game up on the Knicks for the final East playoff spot despite losing six straight games, in a tight battle that included the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Celtics.
The Raptors will be appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 while the Bulls extended their postseason run to six seasons.
In the West, the Clippers shrugged off an injury to All-Star forward Blake Griffin to defeat the Houston Rockets and clinch a franchise-record third consecutive playoff appearance.
The Mavericks took over the eighth and final playoff spot while the Memphis Grizzlies, who entered the weekend as the seventh-seed, fell to ninth after a pair of losses.
The Houston Rockets have yet to qualify for the postseason but were 6-1/2 games ahead of Memphis.
That left the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Dallas hanging onto the final playoff berths.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, while still technically alive in the playoff race, were seven games back of the final spot and have been out of the picture for some time.
The West's New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Los Angels Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz had all been eliminated from playoff contention.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Julian Linden)