How Does the NBA Play-In Tournament Work?

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Are you wondering what the NBA Play-In Tournament is? No worries... we have you covered!

The NBA's landscape is changing, and it's changing fast. Commissioner Adam Silver has made it well known that he's not completely satisfied with how the NBA's regular season and playoff format currently stands. There have been a number of attempts to shorten the length of the season and even add a mid-season tournament to the schedule.

Related: NBA All Star Game MVP: Who Had The Best All Star Game Ever?

The biggest change to the league format that Adam Silver can take credit for is the new play-in tournament. First introduced in 2020, the play-in tournament gives teams on the bubble of making the playoffs an opportunity to sneak in.

Here is everything you need to know about the NBA Play-In Tournament.

How Does The Play-In Work?

The NBA Play-In Tournament involves the teams that finish in the seventh through tenth positions in each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds play each other, with the winner securing the seventh seed for the playoffs. The ninth and tenth seeds also play each other, with the winner advancing to play the loser of the seventh/eighth seed game for the final playoff spot in their conference.

The play-in tournament consists of single elimination games, which means that teams only have one chance to win and advance to the playoffs. The tournament provides an exciting opportunity for teams to compete for a playoff spot that they may have otherwise missed out on.

History of the Play In

In the two years since the NBA has switched to include the seventh through tenth seeds, there have been a number of upsets. More specifically, each year at least one nine seed has advanced and made it to the playoffs.

In the 2021 play in tournament, the first year the format we use today was introduced, the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the eight-seed game. They squared off against the Golden State Warriors in an intense game that went into overtime. The Grizzlies won 117-112, making them the first nine seed to make the playoffs.

In 2022, a ninth seed from both conferences advanced to the playoffs to claim the eight seed. In the West, the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 105-101 to advance to the postsesason. In the East, the Atlanta Hawks upset a rising Cleveland Cavaliers team 107-101 to keep their playoff streak alive.

2023 NBA Play-In Tournament Race


Miami Heat #7 seed vs. Atlanta Hawks #8 seed

Toronto Raptors #9 seed vs. Washington Wizards #10 seed

As it stands in the East at the time of publishing this article, the four teams to make the play-in would be the Heat, Hawks, Raptors, and Wizards. The Brooklyn Nets currently sit as the #6 seed but have lost four straight since trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and I wouldn't be shocked to see them fall out of the race entirely. If that happens, the Chicago Bulls would move into the play-in tournament.


Dallas Mavericks #7 seed vs. Minnesota Timberwolves #8 seed

Utah Jazz #9 seed vs. New Orleans Pelicans #10 seed

In the West, the Mavericks, Timberwolves, Jazz, and Pelicans would make the play-in tournament if it began today. The Pelicans are very familiar with the play in tournament, as they won it in 2022 to claim the 8th seed. The Lakers currently sit at the #11 seed, making them the first team out. With LeBron James injured for a significant time, there is a good chance the Lakers miss the playoffs entirely this year.

There is still a good chunk of season left to play so it's impossible to say for good who will be in this years play-in, but the contenders are starting to distance themselves. Could this be the first year we see a #10 seed claim the last spot in the playoffs? We'll see!

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