The NBA implemented the play-in tournament to give more teams a fair shot at reaching the postseason in the Orlando Bubble in 2020. It was a relative success, with the Portland Trail Blazers going on a run to steal the 8-seed from the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference. As a result, the play-in tournament will continue on in 2020-21, but the format is a bit different. Here we’ll go over the rules for the play-in tournament and when it will take place at the end of the regular season.
NBA play-in tournament schedule
The play-in tournament will begin on May 18 and conclude on May 21 — the 2021 NBA playoffs will then start the day after on Saturday, May 22. We know when each conference will play but are waiting on the final matchups to be set. Here’s how things will look next week:
East play-in matchups, Tuesday, May 18
No. 7 seed Boston Celtics vs. No. 8 seed TBD, TNT
No. 9 seed TBD vs. No. 10 seed TBD, TNT
West play-in matchups, Wednesday, May 19
No. 9 seed TBD vs. No. 10 seed San Antonio Spurs
No. 7 seed TBD vs. No. 8 seed TBD
Thursday, May 20
Eastern Conference 8-seed game
Friday, May 21
Western Conference 8-seed game
NBA play-in tournament format
So things are a bit different this time around. From both the Eastern and Western Conferences, four teams will partake in the play-in tournament. Seeds 7-10 will form a bracket where there will be three games total. First, the 7-8 seeds will play each other to decide who will be the 7-seed. The loser of that game plays the winner of the 9-10 game to determine who will be the 8-seed. Here’s a bit of an outline courtesy of NBA.com. After the play-in tournament is over, it’s the normal 16-team format with seeds 1-8 facing each other in each conference.