How the NBA Play-In Tournament works: Format, schedule, more


An addition to the NBA calendar has helped fill the gap between the end of the regular season and start of the playoffs.

After exploring play-in possibilities in the Orlando bubble, the NBA introduced the Play-In Tournament beginning with the 2020-21 season. The league soon approved the competition on a full-time basis ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.

While the Play-In Tournament has been a hit over the years, it can still be confusing for fans to follow. Here is a breakdown of how the tournament works and what it means for the teams involved.

How many teams are in the NBA Play-In Tournament?

Eight teams compete in the NBA Play-In Tournament each year.

These eight teams are seeded Nos. 7-10 based on the Eastern and Western Conference  regular season standings. Each conference has four teams in the NBA Play-in Tournament.

What is the NBA Play-In Tournament structure?

The tournament is single-elimination for the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds in each conference and double-elimination for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in each conference.

Within each conference, the No. 7 seed hosts the No. 8 seed and the No. 9 seed hosts the No. 10 seed to start things off.

The winner of a 7-8 game becomes the conference’s No. 7 seed and advances to face the No. 2 seed in the first round. The loser of the 7-8 game gets another shot at the playoffs later in the play-in bracket.

The loser of the 9-10 game is eliminated from playoff contention. The winner moves on to face the loser of the 7-8 game for the final playoff spot in their respective conference.

For a clearer visual, here is what the NBA Play-In Tournament looks like for one conference:

  • No. 8 seed at No. 7 seed – winner becomes conference’s No. 7 seed
  • No. 10 seed at No. 9 seed – loser is eliminated
  • No. 9/10 winner at No. 7/8 loser – winner becomes conference’s No. 8 seed, loser is eliminated 

How many days between games are there in the NBA Play-In Tournament?

Along with home court, the loser of the 7-8 game has another advantage over the winner of the 9-10 game in the Play-In Tournament finale.

The 7-8 game for each conference is played on the Tuesday following the end of the regular season, while both 9-10 games are on the ensuing Wednesday. From there, the 7-8 loser hosts the 9-10 winner on Friday, giving the former an additional day of rest.

While the playoffs begin that Saturday, the eventual No. 8 seed gets a day off before beginning the series against its conference’s No. 1 seed on Sunday.

Do NBA Play-In Tournament stats count?

The NBA still doesn’t have a formal method for logging stats from Play-In Tournament games.

They aren’t regular season games, of course, so it wouldn’t make sense to count Play-In stats under that classification. By the league’s logic, it won’t count Play-In stats as playoff stats, either, since the Play-In is used for teams to reach the playoffs.

Since the Play-In Tournament was introduced, the league has yet to create a definitive system for recording numbers from those games.

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