NBA Playoffs 2021: Play-In Tournament explained with rules, dates

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NBC Sports Washington Staff
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NBA Playoffs 2021: Play-In Tournament explained with rules, dates originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With the end of the NBA regular season fast approaching, the Washington Wizards are looking to hold their place as one of the top 10 seeds in the Eastern Conference and squeak into the league's new Play-In Tournament.

It won't be an easy task, as they are just half-game ahead of both Chicago and Toronto at the No. 10 spot in the East a month before the 2021 NBA Playoffs are set to begin.

The Wizards' place in the standings is something fans will have to keep a close eye on down the final stretch, with possible scenarios and odds changing almost daily.

For those who have faith in the Wiz and Bradley Beal to remain in the top 10 and want to start preparing for 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 Wizards 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 would the Wizards play in the Play-In Tournament?

The Play-In Tournament will begin May 18, two days after the Wizards' final regular season game against the Charlotte Hornets 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 Wizards?

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

The Wizards would need to finish Nos. 1-6 in the Eastern Conference standings to qualify for the playoffs. If they don't finish in the top six, the Wizards will take part in the Play-In Tournament. 

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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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Could Washington host a Play-In Tournament game?

With the COVID-19 vaccines continuing to roll out, the NBA has no plans to bring back the bubble. The Play-In Tournament will be held at home arenas, with the highest-winning percentage teams hosting each game.

So, while unlikely, there's a possibility Capital One Arena could host a single-elimination playoff game this spring.

Are the Wizards 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