NBA Play-in Game Rules: How Does Playoff Tournament Work in Bubble?

NBA Play-in Tournament

Getty The NBA will try out a play-in tournament for the final Western Conference postseason spot.

The NBA added a new twist in the bubble playoff tournament which allows the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds to have a play-in game if certain criteria are met. The No. 9 seed needs to be within four games of the No. 8 team in the final standings for a play-in tournament to be required.

The Magic have clinched the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and there will not be a play-in tournament as the Wizards are well-behind Orlando in the standings. Portland, Memphis, San Antonio and Phoenix made things much more interesting in the Western Conference with the four teams fighting for two spots.

The Blazers secured the No. 8 seed and will take on the No. 9 Grizzlies in the play-in matchup. The Grizzlies need to win the first game to force a winner-take-all matchup with the top team advancing the take on the Lakers.


The Play-in Tournament Winner Will Take on the No. 1 Lakers in the First Round

Once the play-in tournament starts, the Grizzlies will have to win two straight games to advance to the 16-team playoffs. If the Blazers win the first game, they will automatically advance to play the No. 1 Lakers in a traditional best-of-seven series. After the play-in tournament in the West, the NBA playoffs will function as it normally does with best-of-seven series throughout the postseason. Here is how the NBA described the play-in format.

But if the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, then we’ll have a battle for the final spot between those two teams.

The tournament will basically be a best-of-two series — where the No. 9 seed will have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot.


NBA Play-In Game Schedule: Western Conference Tournament Starts Saturday, August 15

ESPN has already announced the Western Conference play-in game schedule with the first game tipping off on Saturday, August 15 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on ABC. If the No. 9 seed wins the first game, the final play-in game will take place on Sunday, August 16 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN with the winner advancing to the playoffs.

While the play-in tournament is temporary, the NBA has been discussing a similar idea since before COVID-19 caused the season to be halted. NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted back in February that he expects the play-in tournament to eventually become an annual part of the postseason.

“When we went to our teams, the Players Association and our media partners – probably the most important constituents in making changes,” Silver explained, per NBC Sports. “The response we got was that, frankly, there was so much interest that they didn’t think it made sense to do it as a one-off. I strongly believe we will end up with some sort of in-season tournament and a play-in tournament.”

The question is how soon this will become a reality, but the Western Conference play-in race has been one of the most intriguing parts of the NBA restart in Orlando. The inaugural play-in matchup will be the only game on August 15 and is expected to generate a large amount of interest. This could push the NBA to make this part of the regular playoff format sooner rather than later.

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