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NBA

The wild card system in the NBA In-Season Tournament explained

A wild card system is recognized as a tournament or playoff berth awarded to an individual or team that fails to qualify in the standard way.

Update:
A detail of the In-Season Tournament signage before a game.
MICHAEL REAVESAFP

The NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament started on Friday, November 3, in the team markets and will end with quarterfinal sudden-death matches, followed by the Semifinals on Thursday, December 7, and the Championship on Saturday, December 9, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The tournament is divided into two parts:

  • Group Play
  • Knockout Rounds

Group Play

All 30 teams have been randomly drawn into five groups based on their win-loss records from the 2022-23 regular season. Each team will play four Group Play games - one against each opponent in its group - on “Tournament Nights” every Tuesday and Friday from November 3-28 (except Election Day on November 7). The NBA will only play Group Play games on Tournament Nights. Each team will play two games at home and two on the road.

Knockout Rounds

Eight teams will advance to the Knockout Rounds. The team with the best standing in the Group Play games in the six groups will advance, along with two conference “wild cards.”

The wild card system

During the Group Play stage, there will be six groups, which will see battles to win the group and two wild card teams (the team from each conference with the best record in Group Play games that finished second in its group). Each team will play every other team in its group once. The team’s record in these four intraconference games will determine if the team qualifies for the Knockout Rounds. If two or more teams in a group have the same record, the tie among the teams will be broken based on the following tiebreakers (in order):

  • Head-to-head record in the Group Play stage;
  • Point differential in the Group Play stage;
  • Total points scored in the Group Play stage;
  • Regular season record from the 2022-23 NBA regular season; and
  • Random drawing (in the unlikely scenario that two or more teams are still tied following the previous tiebreakers).

The top team from each group and one wild card team from each conference (with the best record in Group Play games that finished second in its group) will advance to the Knockout Rounds.

If two or more teams are tied for the wild card in a conference, the tie among the teams will be broken based on the same tiebreaker protocol as described above (except for the head-to-head record in the Group Play stage). Ties within groups will be broken before the calculation of wild card tiebreakers.