NBA Playoffs 2021: How does the Play-In Tournament work?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia Staff
·3 min read
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NBA Playoffs 2021: How does the Play-In Tournament work? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

With the end of the NBA regular season fast approaching, the Philadelphia Sixers are clinging to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and, barring a historic collapse, will avoid the league's new Play-In Tournament.

While the Sixers battle with the Nets for the top seed, the teams below them are wrangling for position as one of the top six seeds, with just 1.5 games separating the No. 4 and No. 7 seeds in the East a month before the 2021 NBA Playoffs are set to begin. 

The Sixers' first-round opponent in the playoffs will likely emerge from the Play-In Tournament. Here's everything you need to know:

What is the Play-In Tournament?

The NBA Play-In Tournament is a new format the league introduced to determine the eight playoff teams from each conference.

The league had already tested a version of the play-in format last summer when teams like the Sixers took part in the 2020 NBA restart in Orlando.

At the time, the Portland Trail Blazers played the Memphis Grizzlies to earn a berth in the Western Conference playoffs. There was no play-in game for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

When is the Play-In Tournament?

The Play-In Tournament will begin May 18, two days after the Sixers' final regular season game against the Orlando Magic on May 16.

The last game of the tournament will be May 21, with the first round of the NBA playoffs tipping off May 22.

How does the Play-In Tournament's structure impact the Sixers?

The Play-In Tournament will have six games involving eight teams, split up between the two conferences.

The teams that finish Nos. 7-10 will compete in the tournament to determine the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the playoffs. One of them is likely to be the Sixers' first-round opponent, assuming Philadelphia finishes first or second in the conference.

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The NBA will use winning percentage to determine the standings.

Game 1: The highest-winning percentage team at No. 7 in each conference will host the highest-winning percentage team at No. 8 to compete for the seventh seed in the playoffs. The losing team will have a second chance to make the playoffs in Game 3. 

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Game 2: The team with the highest winning percentage at No. 9 in each conference will host the team with the highest winning percentage at No. 10. The winner will play for a playoff berth in Game 3, while the losing team will enter the NBA draft lottery.

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Game 3: The losing team of No. 7 vs. No. 8 (Game 1) will play the winning team of No. 9 vs. No. 10 (Game 2) for the eighth seed in the playoffs. The losing team will enter the NBA draft lottery.

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Which teams are projected to be in the Play-In Tournament?

If the season ended today, April 23, these would be the teams to compete in the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament:

Eastern Conference

No. 8 Charlotte Hornets at No. 7 Miami Heat

No. 10 Washington Wizards at No. 9 Indiana Pacers

Western Conference

No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies at No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

No. 10 Golden State Warriors at No. 9 San Antonio Spurs