The addition of the NBA play-in tournament has brought a new level of intrigue and drama down the final stretch of the regular season and encouraged teams to compete rather than tank in the hopes of landing a better draft pick. While the play-in format is straightforward, it may be confusing to many NBA fans at first because it’s a new concept to the league.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the tournament, including a bracket and schedule for play-in games.
NBA play-in tournament format explained
- The play-in tournament will be held after the conclusion of the 2020-21 regular season and before the start of the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs. The teams that finish Nos. 1-6 in the standings of each conference will be guaranteed playoff spots. Teams Nos. 7-10 will enter the play-in tournament.
- Each conference’s Nos. 7 and 8 teams will face-off, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The loser will still have one more opportunity to reach the playoffs.
- Each conference’s Nos. 9 and 10 teams will face-off, with the winner advancing to play the loser of the No. 7-vs.-No. 8 game. The loser of the No. 9-vs.-No. 10 game will be eliminated from playoff contention.
- The loser of the No. 7-vs.-No. 8 game and the winner of the No. 9-vs.-No. 10 game will then play against each other. The winner of that game will be the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. The loser will be eliminated from playoff contention.
- Beyond the play-in tournament, the 2021 NBA playoffs will follow the typical format, with full best-of-seven series all the way through the NBA Finals.
NBA playoff bracket 2021
When do the NBA playoffs start?
- Play-in tournament: May 18-21
- NBA playoffs: May 22
The 2021 NBA play-in tournament will begin on Tuesday, May 18. The first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs will start four days later on Saturday, May 22.
July 22 is the latest possible date for an NBA Finals game.