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How the Play-In Tournament works

The Play-In Tournament looks like it’s here to stay after a successful debut year last season which saw the Lakers, Grizzlies, Celtics and Wizards advance.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets tosses his sweatband to a fan during the second half against the Houston Rockets at Barclays Center on April 05, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Nets won 118-105. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   Sarah Stier/Getty Images/AFP
Sarah StierAFP

The Play-In Tournament lurks as we close out the final week of the NBA regular season and teams are either battling to get into to the tournament or stay out of the tournament.

Second year of the Play-In

The NBA implemented the idea of a Play-In last year. The plan was to increase drama towards the end of the regular season with fringe teams in the 8-12 spots of each conference having a chance to extend their season by creating a fight for not just the 1st-8th place spots but 1st-10th placed spots in the East and the West.

With the new system, the 1-6 seeds in each conference earn an automatic place in the first round of the playoffs, while the 7th-10th placed teams have to fight it out in a knockout style tournament.

Within those four spots there is incentive to finishing with the higher 7 and 8 seeds. The advantage of entering the Play-In Tournament with the higher seeds is that one win will move a team on to the first round of the NBA Playoffs, while the loser of that matchup plays the winner of the 9 vs. 10 match up.

How it works

In simpler terms, teams in the 9 vs. 10 match up will have to win two games to get to the first round of the tournament. The loser of the 7 vs. 8 contest will get a second crack at the playoffs against the winner of the 9 vs. 10 game.

The winner of the 7 vs. 8 game gets the seven seed and goes on to play the two seed in their respective conference, while the winner of the final game is seeded eighth and will have to play the top seed.

Last year it was the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Play-In while the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors inaugurated a star studded Wester Conference Play-In Tournament.

Tatum and LeBron started Play-In with a bang

In it’s inaugural year, the tournament gave us a handful of memorable moments. Jayson Tatum put on a spectacular show in the Celtics win over the Wizards, going for 50 points and eight rebounds in his Play-In debut, while LeBron James hit a game sealing three against the Warriors to move on to the first round of the Playoffs.

The Grizzlies, Lakers, Celtics and Wizards all moved on to the first round of the tournament. This year, Memphis and Boston won’t have to worry about the the Play-In Tournament other than the fact that they will be facing one of the survivors in the first round after finishing high up the conference standings. Meanwhile the Lakers will be lucky just to make to the Play-In after a dreadful season has them teetering on the edge.


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