Introduced with a mix of curiosity and excitement, the NBA play-in tournament has quickly become another fun spectacle. Officially part of the NBA calendar since the governors approved its inclusion for 2021, this mini-tournament decides which teams secure the final 2 seeds in the NBA playoffs. Essentially, it's like the appetizer before the main course of the playoffs, offering a taste of the postseason intensity early on.

How does the NBA Play-in tournament work?

The mechanics are simple yet thrilling. The teams that finish numbers 7 through 10 (in both the Western conference and Eastern conference) play and get a shot at two elusive playoff spots per conference.

Play-In bracket
7th place faces the 8th place, where the winner earns the 7 seed playoff spot.
9th place battles 10th place, with the loser eliminated for the season.
The winner of (9 vs 10) game then faces the loser of the (7 vs 8) matchup to fight for the 8 seed playoff spot.

It's a do-or-die scenario that keeps fans on the edge of their seats!

A Tale of Unexpected Heroes

Every now and then, the NBA play-in tournament scripts stories of underdogs and unsung heroes. This format has opened doors for the cinderella teams to defy odds and make significant postseason impacts.

High Stakes, Higher Entertainment

The play-in games are not just basketball games; they are gladiatorial contests where teams fight for their playoff lives. The intensity is akin to the NBA finals, with every dribble and every shot magnified. Teams are in a high-pressure situation, where a single game can define an entire season.

The Impact on Team Strategies

Coaches and players have to adapt quickly. The play-in format has changed how teams approach the end of the regular season and their strategies. Managing player fatigue, strategizing for potentially facing different opponents, and maintaining peak performance levels become crucial.

Fan Engagement

Fans love the drama the NBA play-in tournament brings. Social media buzzes with predictions, analyses, and memes, especially during the nail-biting moments of the games. Platforms like ESPN have seen significant viewership spikes during play-in games, proving that this format has not only captured the imagination of fans but has also kept them glued to their screens.

Looking Ahead

As the NBA continues to innovate, the play-in tournament's future looks bright. It has been successful in maintaining the competitiveness of the regular season right till the end, ensuring teams can't coast through late-season games. Moreover, it keeps the spirit of basketball alive, celebrating the unpredictability and excitement that sports offer.

NBA Playoffs Play-In FAQs

Please browse through our Frequently Asked Questions section to learn more.

How many teams participate in the NBA play-in tournament?

Eight teams participate, with four from each conference (Eastern and Western). These are the teams that finish the regular season in the 7th to 10th spots in their respective conference standings.

What happens to the teams that lose in the play-in tournament?

Losing teams for each conference in the play-in game (9 vs 10) do not advance to the postseason and their season ends. But the team that lose in a play-in game (7 vs 8), play against the winner of the (9 vs 10) matchup.

When was the NBA Play-In Tournament created?

The NBA Play-In Tournament was on the NBA calendar in 2020.

How are the teams selected for the NBA play-in tournament?

The teams that finish Number 7 through 10 in both the Eastern and Western conference standings qualify for the play-in tournament.

How can a 10th place team win NBA championship?

The path for a 10-see to be NBA champion is to win the following series in the playoffs:

  • Play-in tournament (beat 9th place team)
  • Play-in tournament (beat 7th or 8the place team)
  • First Round (beat number 1 seed in their conference)
  • NBA Conference Semifinals (beat either number 4 or 5 seed)
  • NBA Conference Finals (beat either number 2, 3, 6, or 7 seed)
  • NBA Finals (win a best-of-seven series against the other conference champion)


The NBA play-in tournament has redefined the paths to the NBA finals. With its thrilling structure, it not only enhances the competitive spirit of the teams but also increases engagement among fans. As this format continues to evolve, it promises to keep the essence of basketball exciting and unpredictable.