NBA Play-In Preview | How does the exciting mini-tournament work?

The NBA Play-In Tournament injects a thrilling dose of March Madness-style excitement into the NBA postseason, adding a layer of drama and unpredictability. Introduced in the 2019-2020 season and continued since the play-in format spices up the race for playoff berths and provides additional chances for teams on the bubble.

Here’s how the tournament works:

  1. Seeding: The play-in tournament involves teams seeded 7th through 10th in each conference based on their regular-season records.
  2. Format: The tournament consists of two rounds, dubbed the “Play-In Round” and the “Play-In Tournament.”
  3. Play-In Round (if necessary): This round is for the 7th and 8th seeds. The team with the seventh-highest winning percentage in each conference faces the team with the eighth-highest winning percentage in a single game. The winner secures the 7th seed in the playoffs.
  4. Play-In Tournament: This round involves the teams seeded 9th and 10th, as well as the loser of the 7th vs. 8th game. The loser of the 7th vs. 8th game plays the winner of the 9th vs. 10th game in another single game. The victor of this matchup secures the 8th seed in the playoffs.
  5. Playoff Berth: The winners of the NBA play-in games clinch the final two playoff spots in their respective conferences, advancing to face the top seeds in the traditional playoff bracket.

The play-in format adds a sense of urgency to the end of the regular season, with teams fighting tooth and nail to secure their playoff positions. It also offers a second chance to teams on the brink of elimination, making every game crucial and every win monumental. With high stakes and intense competition, the NBA Play-In Tournament promises to deliver thrilling basketball moments for fans worldwide.

The structure of the NBA Play-In Tournament
The structure of the NBA Play-In Tournament (via NBA)

The NBA Play-In Tournament will take place from Tuesday 16th of April to Friday 19th of April 19.

Eastern Conference 

• 7/8 Game: Miami vs. Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 17th

Miami – Key Player: Jimmy Butler

Jimmy ‘Buckets’ will be keen to lead his franchise to another NBA Finals as he did in 2020. He has averaged 20.8 PPG this year on an efficient 50% field goal percentage. He’s the main man.

Philadelphia – Key Player: Joel Embiid

When healthy, there are very valid claims to be made for Embiid being the best player in the NBA. Unfortunately, he is no stranger to an injury which is why the 76ers even find themselves in the play-in. In his 39 games, he averaged 34.7 PPG, with 11.0 RPG. Averaging a double-double every game with 5.6 APG as well. He is on a different level. Now he’s back, the burden will be released off Tyrese Maxey and the 76ers can start to show why they’re actually contenders and not just here to fill in the numbers.

Nicky’s Verdict: The 76ers

Joel Embiid is DOMINANT
Joel Embiid is DOMINANT (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

• 9/10 Game: Atlanta vs. Chicago, Wednesday, April 17th

Atlanta – Key Player: Trae Young

The Hawks could’ve bypassed the NBA play-in had Trae Young remained healthy. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Fortunately, he’s now back. He lost all four games upon his return, also averaging far lower than his season average of 25.7 PPG. He’s reloading for the play-in and potential playoff…

Chicago – Key Player: DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan is a seriously clutch player. Back to the wall, this is a player who you want to get you out of a sticky situation. The six-time NBA All-Star will be raring to have one last shot at an NBA champions ring.

Nicky’s Verdict: The Hawks

DeMAr DeRozan, 365Scores Stats

Western Conference

• 7/8 Game: L.A. Lakers vs. New Orleans, Tuesday, April 16th

Lakers – Key Player: LeBron James

LeBron ages like a fine wine. He’s now had TWENTY straight years of averaging above 25.0 PPG. I mean, there is a reason why he’s scored the most points in NBA history. This year, he’s still dominant. With Anthony Davis by his side and his trusty deputies, there’s no reason why the Lakers can’t make a strong run.

Pelicans – Key Player: Zion Williamson

Zion leads the Pelicans for PPG (22.9) and is second in RPG (5.8) but to be entirely honest, I don’t think Zion has it in him to challenge a hungry LeBron. Zion is a strong player and has the hallmarks of a fantastic player, but he, and the Pelicans, are not quite at the level to withstand the beast that is LeBron in the NBA play-in tournament.

Nicky’s Verdict: The Lakers

LeBron James from the LA Lakers
LeGOAT (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

• 9/10 Game: Golden State vs. Sacramento, Tuesday, April 16th

Golden State – Key Player: Stephen Curry

‘Steph Curry with the shot, boy’. He’s not slowing down. He hit an efficient 41% three-point shot percentage for the season and it’s still as much of a weapon as ever. He averaged 26.4 PPG, up there with the best in the league. Has he got one last dance left in him?

Sacramento – Key Player: Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis is top. He averages almost a triple-double every single game! 19.7 PPG, 13.7 RPG (of which 3.6 are offensive) and 8.2 APG. He really is fantastic.

 Nicky’s Verdict: The Warriors

ST3PH CURRY  Ready for the NBA Play-In
ST3PH CURRY (Photo by Kavin Mistry/Getty Images)

By Nicky Helfgott / @NickyH3lfgott on Twitter

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The NBA Outrights, before the Play-In.

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