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2021 NBA Play-In Tournament Explained

For the first time in NBA history, teams seeded 7-10 will compete for two playoff spots. But how exactly does this NBA Play-In Tournament work?

Gone are the days where the NBA Playoffs picture is crystal clear so far as the seventh and eighth seeds are concerned. The 2021 NBA Playoffs will feature a never-before-seen NBA Play-In Tournament between the No. 7, 8, 9 and 10th seeds. Before it officially begins, let’s get this NBA Play-in Tournament explained.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s use this playoff picture tweeted by the NBA at the start of this week:

There are still some key games left to play to solidify the specifics of this tournament. But let’s use the Western Conference standings to go through the hypotheticals. In this scenario, the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs would all be participating in the NBA Play-In Tournament.

nba play-in tournament explained 2021 playoffs
Credit: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

2021 NBA Play-In Tournament Explained

Hypothetical Tournament

Round 1

  • Golden State Warriors (8) at Los Angeles Lakers (7). The winner of this game will be the seventh seed and play the second-seeded Phoenix Suns. The loser will play the winner of the 9th vs. 10th seed.
  • San Antonio Spurs (10) at Memphis Grizzlies (9). The winner of this game will face off against the loser of the aforementioned game. The loser’s season would be over.

That may have been confusing, so let’s play hypothetical and say that the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies win these games. The Lakers would become the number 7 seed. The Memphis Grizzlies would advance to the second round of the tournament.

Round 2

  • Memphis Grizzlies (9) at Golden State Warriors (8). The winner of this matchup would become the eighth seed in the playoffs and would face the Utah Jazz.

Breakdown/Opinion of NBA Play-In Tournament

Many fans and current players are unsure about whether or not they like the NBA Play-In Tournament. LeBron James can’t even make up his mind about it:

But in all seriousness, there is no arguing that the end of the 2020-21 regular season has been as enjoyable as ever. Teams are not only fighting for top seeds, but they are also fighting to simply not be the seventh seed. The NBA Play-In Tournament means more teams, and more fans, can remain engaged at the end of the season instead of just tanking.

A very fair critique of the Play-In Tournament is that there is no reason for so many teams to fight and claw for the bottom two playoff spots. After all, the eighth seed has only beaten the first seed in a seven-game series just three times since the seven-game series was introduced to the first round of the playoffs in 2003.

What do you think of the NBA Play-In Tournament?

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