Houston Rockets small forward Chase Budinger (10) grabs a loose...

Houston Rockets small forward Chase Budinger (10) grabs a loose ball away from Denver Nuggets small forward Wilson Chandler (21) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game. (April 15, 2012) Credit: AP

Each Monday down the stretch, we'll take a look at the upcoming stretch for each team mathematically alive in the East and West playoff races, and break down what they need to do to stay alive in the postseason hunt.


1. Chicago Bulls (46-14)
*clinched a playoff berth, clinched division
Firm hold on No. 1 seed
Schedule: vs. Washington, at Charlotte, at Miami, vs. Dallas
This week: The week's first two games give Derrick Rose an opportunity to reacclimate himself with the Bulls' offense. Barring collapse, Chicago should cruise to the No. 1 seed.

2. Miami Heat (42-17)
*clinched a playoff berth, clinched division
Status: Firm hold on No. 2 seed
Schedule: at New Jersey, vs. Toronto, vs. Chicago, vs. Washington, vs. Houston
This week: Is it time for Erik Spoelstra to ease off the gas and give his three superstars some rest? Even short-handed, Miami should have little problem winning three games this week, in turn clinching the No. 2 seed.

3. Indiana Pacers (38-22)
*clinched a playoff berth
Status: Firm hold on No. 3 seed
Schedule: vs. Minnesota, at Philadelphia, vs. Milwaukee, vs. Philadelphia
This week: The scorching Celts are still within striking distance, but there's no reason to believe the Pacers, 8-1 in April, won't do enough to hang on to the No. 3 spot.

4. Boston Celtics (36-25)
*clinched a playoff berth, division leader
Fighting for home court
Schedule: at Knicks, vs. Orlando, at Atlanta
This week: The final two weeks set up nicely for the Celtics, with plenty of time to get the aging core some rest. How important is home court in the first round to Doc Rivers? We'll get an idea Friday when the Celtics head to Atlanta.

5. Atlanta Hawks (35-25)
Status: Fighting for home court
Schedule: at Toronto, vs. Detroit, vs. Boston, vs. Knicks
This week: After the Raptors and Pistons, Atlanta finishes the year with four serious tests. A chance to prove they can hang with playoff-caliber teams on the eve of the postseason?

6. Orlando Magic (35-25)
*clinched a playoff berth
Status: Trying to survive without Dwight
Schedule: vs. Pihladelphia, at Boston, at Utah, at Denver
This week: A 3 1/2 game lead on the Sixers isn't safe with Dwight Howard sidelined. An 0-4 week -- which is a distinct possibility -- could mean a first-round match-up with the Heat or Bulls.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (31-28)
Status: Fighting for No. 7 seed
Schedule: at Orlando, vs. Indiana, at Cleveland, at Indiana
This week: Philly is going to spend a lot of time on the road over the final two weeks. Three wins this week -- which won't be easy -- could go a long way in avoiding the Heat and Bulls in the first round.

8. Knicks (31-29)
Status: Fighting for No. 7 seed
Schedule: vs. Boston, at New Jersey, at Cleveland, at Atlanta
This week: It's easy for the Knicks to look ahead at the Magic and Sixers, and see a chance to leapfrog two struggling teams. But a loss to the Nets or Cavs would put the Bucks right back in the playoff chase.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (29-31)
Status: Must-win territory
Schedule: at Washington, at Indiana, vs. New Jersey
This week: It's simple for Milwaukee: They need a 3-0 week to stay in contention.


10. Detroit Pistons (22-38)

11. New Jersey Nets (22-39)

12. Toronto Raptors (22-39)

13. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-39)

14. Wasington Wizards (14-46)

15. Charlotte Bobcats (7-52)


1. Oklahoma City Thunder (44-16)
*clinched a playoff berth, clinched division
Fighting for No. 1 seed
Schedule: at Clippers, at Phoenix, at Sacramento, at Lakers
This week: OKC needs to come away with several road wins to hold off San Antonio.

1. San Antonio Spurs (42-16)
*clinched a playoff berth, clinched division
Fighting for No. 1 seed
Schedule: at Golden State, at Lakers, at Sacramento, vs. Lakers, vs. Cleveland
This week: The Spurs have the league's busiest schedule for the final two weeks. Gregg Popovich could decide to rest his players instead of gunning for the Thunder.

3. Los Angeles Lakers (39-22)
*clinched a playoff berth, division leader
In divisional battle
Schedule: vs. San Antonio, at Golden State, at San Antonio, vs. Oklahoma City
This week: Brutal stretch for the Lakers. Will Kobe be around to help?

4. Los Angeles Clippers (37-23)
Status: In divisional battle
Schedule: vs. Oklahoma City, at Denver, at Phoenix, vs. New Orleans
This week: If the Clippers hope to overtake the Lakers in the Pacific, this will be the week to do it; their schedule is easier, though not by much, than the cross-arena rivals.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (35-25)
Status: Fighting for home court
Schedule: at Minnesota, vs. New Orleans, at Charlotte, vs. Portland
This week: The Grizz get four teams in full tank mode. Could the No. 3 seed, in addition to the No. 4 seed, be in play?

6. Dallas Mavericks (34-27)
Status: Fighting for playoff spot
Schedule: at Utah, vs. Houston, vs. Golden State, at Chicago
This week: Dallas took care of business last week, going 3-1. Barring collapse, the defending champs are in good shape.

7. Denver Nuggets (33-27)
Status: Fighting for playoff spot
Schedule: at Houston, vs. Clippers, at Phoenix, vs. Orlando
This week: It's a Tour de Contenders for Denver, with massively important games against the Rockets and Suns on the schedule. Wins in both games should secure Denver's playoff spot.

8. Houston Rockets (32-28)
Status: Fighting for playoff spot
Schedule: vs. Denver, at Dallas, at New Orleans, vs. Golden State
This week: That three game losing streak could turn into five games real quick at the beginning of this week. Kyle Lowry needs to step up for the Rockets to hang on.

9. Phoenix Suns (31-29)
Status: Outside but in play
Schedule: vs. Portland, vs. Oklahoma City, vs. Clippers, vs. Denver
This week: If it's any consolation, at least most of the Suns' brutal season-ending stretch comes at home.

10. Utah Jazz (31-30)
Status: Outside but in play
Schedule: vs. Dallas, at Portland, vs. Orlando
This week: Utah struck gold in beating San Antonio and Houston, then fell flat on its face in a loss to the Hornets. It will probably take 35 wins to make the postseason, so Utah can't afford any slip-ups this week.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (28-33)
Status: Counting down to lottery
Schedule: at Phoenix, vs. Utah, at Memphis


12. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-36)

13. Golden State Warriors (22-37)

14. Sacramento Kings (20-41)

15. New Orleans Hornets (18-42)

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