How does the NBA play-in work and which teams will participate in the tournament during the 2020-21 season?

The league first got a taste of the play-in round during the 2020 NBA restart in Orlando, Florida, with the Portland Trail Blazers beating the Memphis Grizzlies for last place in the Western Conference playoffs. In November, the NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a plan to institute a new version of the play-in for one year.

The play-in adds a fascinating detail at the end of the regular season and early in the postseason. Teams were already less incentivized to lose games down the stretch due to the lowered lottery odds instituted in 2019. Now that the top 10 teams in the standings will finish the regular season with at least one chance to make the playoffs, more franchises will stay in the picture longer. Expect some heated matchups as teams push to get to (or above) the game scrimmage.

Here’s everything you need to know about the play-in setup this season, including how it works, when and where it will happen, and the most likely matchups.


How does the NBA play-in tournament work?

There will be six games in total involving eight teams as part of the play-in tournament, divided between the two conferences.

Teams that finish 1-6 in each conference will be guaranteed playoff spots, while teams ranked 7-10 will enter the play-in. Any team that finishes worse than number 10 will be in the lottery. Since there is the potential for teams to end up with an uneven number of games played due to complications from COVID-19, the NBA will use the winning percentage to determine ranking.

This is how the games will work:

• Game 1: The No. 7 team in the winning percentage standings will host the No. 8 team, and the winner will be the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The losing team has another chance in Game 3.

• Game 2: The No. 9 team will host the No. 10 team, and the winner will advance to Game 3. The loser is eliminated and enters the NBA draft lottery.

• Game 3: The loser of match No. 7 vs. No. 8 will host the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10, and the winner will take No. 8 in the postseason. The loser of Game 3 also enters the lottery.

This means that teams with the seventh and eighth highest winning percentage will have two chances to win a game to secure a playoff spot, while teams with the ninth and 10th highest winning percentage must win two games. consecutive to advance.


When is the NBA play-in tournament?

The last day of the NBA regular season is scheduled for May 16. The play-in will begin on May 18 and end on May 21, and the first round of the NBA playoffs will begin on May 22.


What teams are projected to reach the NBA play-in tournament?

If the season ended today (April 6), the matchups would be:

Western Conference

• Memphis Grizzlies (No. 8) en Dallas Mavericks (No. 7)

• Golden State Warriors (No. 10) en San Antonio Spurs (No. 9)

Eastern Conference

• New York Knicks (No. 8) en Boston Celtics (No. 7)

• Chicago Bulls (No. 10) at Indiana Pacers (No. 9)

And here are the most likely participants in each conference, through projections using ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), which takes into account injuries, schedule strength, and impact on the court for each rotation player.

West No. 7 vs. No. 8

• Dallas Mavericks: 45.2%

• Portland Trail Blazers: 38.5%

• Golden State Warriors: 34.6%

• Memphis Grizzlies: 34.6%

• New Orleans Pelicans: 20.1%

West No. 9 vs. No. 10

• Golden State Warriors: 46.6%

• Memphis Grizzlies: 46.3%

• New Orleans Pelicans: 44.7%

• San Antonio Spurs: 33.0%

• Sacramento Kings: 26.6%

This No. 7 vs. No. 8

• Indiana Pacers: 49.1%

• Atlanta Hawks: 47.8%

• Charlotte Hornets: 32.3%

• Toronto Raptors: 22.5%

• New York Knicks: 20.7%

This No. 9 vs. No. 10

• New York Knicks: 54.7%

• Toronto Raptors: 53.9%

• Chicago Bulls: 34.5%

• Indiana Pacers: 27.3%

• Atlanta Hawks: 14.6%

When we surveyed ESPN experts last week, these were their picks for the most exciting potential matchups:

• Tim MacMahon: Warriors vs. Mavericks (Oeste)

• Royce Young: Heat vs. Celtics (Este)

• Bobby Marks: Warriors vs. Mavericks (Oeste)

• Kevin Arnovitz: Warriors vs. Lakers (Oeste)

• Jerry Bembry: Heat vs. Celtics (Este)