How does the NBA play-in tournament work and which teams will participate in the 2020-21 season?
The league first tested the warm-up round during the 2020 NBA restart in Orlando, Florida with the Portland Trail Blazer topping out ceremony Memphis grizzlies to get last place in the Western Conference playoffs. In November the NBA became the Board of Governors unanimously approved a plan to introduce a new version of the play-in on an annual basis.
The play-in adds an intriguing crease to the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason. The teams were already less motivated due to tank games on the track the flattened lottery probabilities introduced in 2019. Now that the Dallas Mavericks All-star Luka Doncic and team owner Mark Cuban are less than thrilled the prospect of the play-in tournament, but we should expect some heated competition as the teams try to make it into the play-in battle – or beyond.
Here’s everything you need to know about this season’s play-in setup, including how it works, when and where it takes place, and the most likely matchups as per ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI).
When does the NBA play-in tournament take place?
The last day of the NBA regular season is scheduled for May 16. Play-in starts on May 18th and ends on May 21st. The first round of the NBA playoffs begins May 22nd.
How does the NBA play-in tournament work?
Scoop Jackson breaks the new rules for the NBA play-in tournament.
As part of the play-in tournament, a total of six games will be played with eight teams, which are divided between the two conferences.
The teams that finish numbers 1-6 in each conference are guaranteed play-off places, while teams number 7-10 in the overall standings are included in the play-in. Any team that does worse than # 10 will take part in the lottery. With the teams having the chance to finish with an odd number of games due to COVID-19 complications, the NBA uses the win percentage to determine the leaderboard.
This is how the games work:
Game 1: Team no. 7 in the overall standings by percentage of winnings will host team no. 8, with the winner being awarded 7th place in the playoffs. The losing team gets another chance in game 3.
Game 2: Team # 9 will host team # 10, with the winner moving on to game 3. The loser is eliminated and enters the NBA draft lottery.
Game 3: The loser of matchup # 7 versus # 8 will match the winner of matchup # 9 versus # 10, with the winner taking seed # 8 in the postseason. The loser of game 3 also takes part in the lottery.
This means that the teams with the seventh highest and the eighth highest percentage of profits have two options to win a game to secure a playoff spot, while the teams with the ninth highest and tenth highest percentage of profits must win two games in a row.
Which teams are likely to win the NBA play-in tournament?
If the season ended today (April 19th) the matchups would be:
MORE: Current NBA rankings
And here are the most likely attendees of any conference on projections with BPI taking into account the injuries, the strength of the schedule, and the impact each rotation player has on the field of play.
Most likely West Game 1 (No. 7 versus No. 8)
Most likely West Game 2 (No. 9 versus No. 10)
Most likely East Game 1 (No. 7 versus No. 8)
Most likely East Game 2 (No. 9 vs. No. 10)
Play-in matchups that we can’t wait for
When we interviewed ESPN’s NBA experts, here were her tips for the most exciting potential play-in matchups:
Tim MacMahon: Sign me up for everyone Stephen Curry vs. Luka Doncic Games i can get. I attended the American Airlines Center on February 6th, perhaps the most entertaining game of the season, with Curry and Doncic scoring 99 points in a 134-132 shootout won by the Mavs. The Warriors and Mavs may not be real contenders right now, but Golden State could be a first-round matchup problem if they are healthy.
Bobby Marks: Luka versus Steph in the Western Conference. A win-or-go home game with two All-NBA guards would be the highlight of the play-in tournament.
Royce Young: Heat vs. Celtics would be a pretty dramatic matchup. Two strong Eastern Conference players, both trying to correct a disappointing season and become a dangerous playoff team. But you have to go home with the shame of ending a disappointing season with no benefits. It’s probably the matchup with the most at stake.
Kevin Arnovitz: Warriors versus Lakers. This iteration of the Lakers has never played an elimination game. A Lebron James-Steph Curry Showdown in a do-or-die scenario would be big drama.
Jerry Bembry: Boston versus Miami. Before the season, a lot of people would have had Celtics and Heat in the top 10 teams in the league. The combination of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum Boston was the future of the NBA, and the heat had an incredible run to the finals. Nobody could have imagined that both teams were hovering around seven / eight places in the east.