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Crunch time for teams making late push for NBA playoffs

(Reuters) - The NBA's playoff picture has started to come into focus and there is precious little time for the few teams clinging to slim hopes of joining the postseason party.

Twelve of the 16 playoff berths are still technically up for grabs but with the regular season ending on April 16 that leaves many teams all but mathematically eliminated from contention.

The Eastern Conference's Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have officially secured their playoff berths while the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have punched their tickets in the Western Conference.

While that leaves six remaining playoff spots in each conference, there are enough near certainties to drastically reduce the actual number of available playoff berths.

While not mathematically assured of making the playoffs, the East's Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats all appear to have built big enough cushions.

The East's Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are all mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

That leaves the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, battling for the eighth and final spot in the East.

Atlanta is clinging to the eighth playoff seed, 2-1/2 games ahead of New York, but has lost five straight heading into Saturday's game versus Washington.

Both Atlanta and New York have 10 games remaining but the Knicks, 8-2 in their last 10, still must play nine teams that are currently above them in the standings while the Hawks play five teams with better records.

In the West, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets have yet to qualify for the postseason but they are both at least seven games ahead of the ninth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, which excludes the Clippers and Rockets from talk of being on the playoff bubble.

The West's Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Los Angels Lakers and Utah Jazz have all been eliminated from playoff contention.

That leaves the fifth-seed Portland Trail Blazers, sixth-seed Golden State Warriors, seventh-seed Memphis Grizzlies and eighth-seed Phoenix Suns hanging onto the final playoff berths.

The Mavericks are on the outside looking in but only one-half game back of Phoenix. The Minnesota Timberwolves, while still technically alive in the playoff race, are seven games back of the final spot and have been out of the picture for some time.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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