Race to determine playoff field headed down to the wire
(Reuters) - Time is quickly running out for the few teams desperately trying to extend their NBA seasons after the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Bobcats all punched their playoff tickets over the weekend.
Three teams still have a mathematical chance at securing the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference but it is essentially a two-horse race between the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks.
In the Western Conference, four teams are battling down the stretch for the final three of eight playoff spots with nine days left in the regular season.
Charlotte's overtime victory over Cleveland on Saturday gave them their second Eastern Conference playoff berth in the team's 10-year history, and first since 2010.
The Hawks entered the weekend outside the playoff bubble but got two wins, including one on Sunday against the second-seed Indiana Pacers, to overtake the New York Knicks for eighth place with six games to play.
Atlanta have three fewer losses than the ninth-place Knicks, who have four games left, and a two-game lead overall. They are also four games up on the 10th-seed Cleveland Cavaliers, who only have three games to play.
The two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards are the other East team's to have clinched playoff berths.
The East's Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason.
In the West, Houston secured a playoff spot for the second consecutive year following Saturday's win over an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is considered one of the contenders for the National Basketball Association title.
Portland advanced to the postseason for the first time in three seasons following Sunday's home win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
They joined the first-seed San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles Clippers as West teams that are headed to the postseason that opens on April 19.
The West's Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Los Angels Lakers and Utah Jazz have all been eliminated from playoff contention.
That leaves the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies left to determine the field for the West playoffs.
Golden State are seeded sixth in the tight West standings, 1-1/2 games behind fifth-place Portland and 1-1/2 games ahead of seventh-place Dallas.
Phoenix, coming off Sunday's win over Oklahoma City, are a further half-game back in eight place while the Grizzlies, who reached the conference finals last year, are one game back of the eighth seed.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Steve Keating)
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