Time running out for teams making late playoff push

(Reuters) – The handful of teams still fighting to secure one of the final four NBA playoff berths have six days to extend their seasons and embark on what they hope is a Cinderella run.

Seven of the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots have already been secured while five of the Western Conference’s eight postseason tickets have been punched.

The East’s Atlanta Hawks are two games ahead of the ninth-place New York Knicks with each team having four games left on their regular-season schedule.

In the West, the sixth-seed Golden State Warriors are one game ahead of the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks and two in front of the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies.

Dallas is two games left to play while their challengers for a playoff spot each have four.

But the teams still chasing playoff spots face long odds of being the last club standing as all but two of the previous 66 NBA champions have come from teams that entered the postseason seeded third or higher.

The top seed in the East has come down to a two-horse race between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, who play later on Friday in a game that will put one team in control.

Indiana is currently a half-game ahead of Miami and a road win last night would move one victory away from securing the top seed and home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls are locked in a battle for the East’s third seed with the former one win away from the Atlantic Division title and the latter riding a season-high six-game winning streak.

The Brooklyn Nets, three games back of Toronto and Chicago, look to have the fifth seed locked up with a three-game cushion over the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards.

The East’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

The San Antonio Spurs, 3-1/2 games up on the Oklahoma City Thunder with three to play, can secure the top seed in the West with a win later on Friday over a Suns team that is percentage points ahead of eighth-seed Dallas.

The Los Angeles Clippers, who close out the regular season with two of their three games against non-playoff teams, appear to have the third seed wrapped up.

The fourth-seed Houston Rockets, who have three of their starters battling injuries, can lock up home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.

That leaves the fifth-seed Portland Trail Blazers left to fight off a Warriors team that is 2-1/2 games back and trying to secure a playoff spot and more favorable first-round opponent.

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.

Around the Web