How does the NBA play-in tournament work? Dates, projections and rules explained

How does the NBA tournament work and which teams are competing in the 2020-21 season?

The league first tested the playoff bracket during the 2020 NBA reboot in Orlando, Florida, where the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. In November, the NBA Board of Directors unanimously approved a plan to introduce a new version of the play-in for one year.

Play-ins make the end of the regular season and the beginning of the postseason an exciting affair. Teams were already less interested in playing games in a tank as their chances of winning the 2019 lottery dwindled. With the top ten teams in the standings ending the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs, more franchises will stay in the game longer. Some, like Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic and team owner Mark Cuban, aren’t too keen on the idea of a draft tournament, but expect stiff competition as teams try to get into – or past – draft play.

Here’s everything you need to know about this season’s matchups, including how they work, when and where they take place and the most likely matchups, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI).

When is the NBA play-in tournament?

The final day of the NBA regular season is set for the 16th. May scheduled. The playoffs begin on May 18 and end on May 21, with the first round of the NBA playoffs taking place on May 22. The month of May is coming to an end.

How does the NBA preparation tournament work?

The qualifying tournament consists of a total of six games with eight teams divided between the two conferences.

Teams ranked 1-6 in each conference are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, while teams ranked 7-10 in the standings qualify for the playoffs. Any team finishing lower than 10th place will be entered into the draw. Due to the possibility of teams finishing with an odd number of games played due to complications with VDIC-19, the NBA will use the winning percentage to determine the standings.

This is how the games will work:

  • Game 1: The number seven in the bracket receives the number eight based on winning percentage, and the winner receives the number seven for the playoffs. The losing team has another chance in the third game.
  • Game 2: Team #9 hosts team #10, and the winner advances to the third game. The loser is eliminated and enters the NBA draft lottery.
  • Game 3: The loser of the match between numbers 7 and 8 will face off against the winner of the match between numbers 9 and 10, with the winner getting the eighth seed in the post-season. The loser of the third game also enters the lottery.

This means that teams with wins in the seventh and eighth percentile have two chances to win a game to secure a spot in the playoffs, while teams with wins in the ninth and tenth percentile must win two consecutive games to advance.

How important is the ranking in a play-in game?

Which teams will participate in the NBA tournament?

If the season had ended today (April 19), there would have been games :

Western Conference

Eastern Conference

MORE: Current state of the NBA

And here are the most likely participants in each conference, thanks to projections with BPI, what the injury factors, strength of schedule and on-field impact of each player in the rotation are.

Will likely play in the first Western game (#7 vs #8).

This would likely lead to a second game in the West (#9 vs #10).

Probably the first game in the East (#7 vs #8).

Most likely game 2 of the East (#9 vs #10).

Playing in matches you cannot expect.

Luca Doncic versus Stephen Curry in the Western Conference? Sign us up. Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

We asked ESPN’s NBA experts for their thoughts on the most interesting possible games:

Tim McMahon: Sign me up for every Stephen Curry vs Luca Doncic match I can get. The 6th. In February, I was at American Airlines Center for perhaps the most entertaining game of the season, when Curry and Doncic combined for 99 points in a 134-132 victory over the Mavs. The Warriors and Mavs may not be real contenders at this point, but Golden State could be a problem in the first round if healthy.

Bobby Marks: Luca versus Steph in the Western Conference. The main game of the tournament is a win or lose match with two All-NBA guards.

Royce Young: The run against the Celtics would have been a pretty spectacular game within the contest. Two heavyweights from the Eastern Conference both looking to improve on a disappointing season and become a dangerous playoff team. But you have to go home with the shame of ending a disappointing season without a win. It’s probably a game with the majority at stake.

Kevin Arnovich: Warriors vs Lakers. This generation of the Lakers has never played an away game. A showdown between LeBron James and Steph Curry in a do-or-die scenario would be a great time.

Jerry Bembry: Boston versus Miami. Before the season, many would have seen the Celtics and Heat as top 10 teams in the league. Boston’s combination of Jalen Brown and Jason Tatum represented the future of the NBA, and the Heat made an incredible run to the Finals. No one could have imagined that the two teams would be within seven or eight points in the East.

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