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

How the NBA Play-In Tournament works: Format, schedule, more originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

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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