NBA play-in tournament, explained: What to know about format for Western Conference’s last playoff seed

The NBA added a nice bonus to its engaging final week of the 2020 season with a short play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed if the No. 9 seed in a conference was four or fewer games out. That’s the case in the Western Conference with the final spot in the NBA’s playoff bracket still up for grabs.

While the format is straightforward, it will probably be confusing to many NBA fans at first because it’s a new concept to the league.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the play-in tournament, including the format and rules to fill out the NBA’s playoff picture:

NBA play-in format, explained

There are two things we need to explain about the play-in format for the Western Conference 8-seed: How teams get into the tournament, and how they advance to the actual playoffs.

The No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in the West make it to the play-in round. Those spots will be clinched Thursday night, with the Trail Blazers, Suns, Grizzlies and Spurs all in the running.

The play-in tournament itself is pretty simple. The No. 9 seed would need to win twice to make the playoffs. The No. 8 seed just needs a single victory. So, if the No. 8 seed wins Saturday, the tournament ends there. If the No. 9 seed wins Saturday, it sets up a winner-take-all scenario Sunday.

If you’re wondering why there isn’t a play-in for the Eastern Conference, it’s because no one is within four games of the No. 8 Magic. That’s the margin that activates the format.

NBA play-in tournament schedule

The NBA play-in tournament will wrap up this weekend in Orlando and finalize the league’s 2020 playoff bracket. Game 1 is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 15. Should the lesser seed win that contest, Game 2 would take place Sunday, Aug. 16 to settle the Western Conference’s last postseason spot.

TV coverage for Game 1 begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC with Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Lisa Salters on the call. If necessary, Game 2 will be shown on ESPN starting at 4:30 p.m. ET.

*if necessary

Western Conference 8-seed standings

Four teams are battling for two play-in tournament spots. The season will be over for the No. 10 and No. 11 teams after Thursday. 

Here’s how the standings shape up entering the final night of the campaign:

When do the NBA playoffs start?

Following the play-in tournament this weekend, the first round of the NBA postseason will begin on Monday. Exact matchups and schedules depend on Thursday’s results.

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