NBA play-in tournament: How it works, matchups, schedule

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The NBA’s new play-in tournament to determine seeding for the first round of the 2021 playoffs begins on Tuesday.

Starting in 2021, a team that finish seventh and eighth in the standings could potentially be bounced from the postseason without ever making it to a first-round series. It’s a major change to the playoff format that has been polarizing among some players and analysts – LeBron James, for one, ripped the tournament and called for whoever came up with it to be fired.

How does the play-in work, which teams are involved, and what’s the playoff schedule? We’ve got you covered.

In each conference, four teams are battling to occupy the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the first round.

  • The teams that finished seventh and eighth in the regular season will face off in a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to take on the No. 2 seed.

  • The loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game will face the winner of a playoff between the No. 9 and No. 10 teams. The winner of that last-chance qualifier will advance to face the No. 1 overall seed in their conference.

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In the Eastern Conference, the No. 2 Brooklyn Nets await the winner of a Celtics-Wizards playoff. In the West, the No. 2 Suns will face either the Lakers or Warriors.

The top seeded Sixers and Jazz, however, could face any one of the four play-in teams in their conference.

PLAY-IN SCHEDULE:

Tuesday:

  • No. 10 Hornets at No. 9 Pacers – 6:30 ET, TNT

  • No. 8 Wizards at No. 7 Celtics – 9 ET, TNT

Wednesday:

  • No. 10 Spurs at No. 9 Grizzlies – 7:30 ET, ESPN

  • No. 8 Warriors at No. 7 Lakers – 10 ET, ESPN

Thursday:

  • Winner of Hornets/Pacers at loser of Wizards/Celtics – 8 ET, TNT

Friday:

  • Winner of Spurs/Grizzlies at loser of Warriors/Lakers – TBD, ESPN