How Does the NBA Play-In Tournament Work?

The Play-In Tournament first debuted in a beta concept for the 2020 season as the league sought innovative solutions for a bubble re-launch during the peak of COVID-19. At first, it involved only the 8th and 9th seeds competing. Recently the Play-In Tournament has expanded to its current format.

It’s introduced a fresh twist to the league’s playoff structure. Instead of the Top 8 teams automatically securing playoff berths, teams ranked 7th through 10th in each conference participate in a mini-tournament shortly after the regular season concludes. This determines the final two playoff entries in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

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How the NBA Play-In Tournament Works

The Play-In Tournament includes the teams ranked 7th through 10th in each conference based on regular season records. These teams are often on the playoff bubble, with a chance to secure their postseason berths or face elimination.

Double-Elimination and Single-Elimination Games

The tournament features a combination of double-elimination and single-elimination games. The 7th and 8th seeds in each conference earn double-elimination status, meaning they have two opportunities to secure a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the 9th and 10th seeds play in a single-elimination game, where the loser is immediately eliminated from playoff contention.

Determining Playoff Seeds

The winners of the double-elimination games between the 7th and 8th seeds in each conference claim the 7th and 8th playoff seeds, respectively. The loser of the 7th vs. 8th matchup then faces off against the winner of the single-elimination game between the 9th and 10th seeds. The victor of this game earns the final playoff spot as the 8th seed, completing the playoff picture for the conference.

The NBA Play-In Tournament typically takes place shortly after the conclusion of the regular season. The games are often held at neutral venues, providing an equitable environment for all participating teams.

While the Play-In Tournament determines the final playoff spots, it also influences playoff seeding and matchups. Teams that advance through the tournament may face higher-seeded opponents in the first round of the playoffs, potentially altering the postseason landscape.

NBA Play-In Tournament Format

Here’s a breakdown of how the Play-In Tournament unfolds.

In each conference, the 7th and 8th seeds are granted double-elimination status and face off against each other. Meanwhile, the 9th and 10th seeds compete in a single-elimination matchup. The winner of the 7th-8th game claims the 7th seed, while the loser of that game then battles the victor of the 9th-10th game for the 8th seed.

Following this, the playoffs commence in the conventional bracket format that we all know and love.

Play-In Tournament Betting Options

Moneyline / Point Spread / Over Under

Individual game betting during the NBA playoffs is pretty much the same as it during the regular season. You can wager on a game’s moneyline, the over/under (total points scored), and the point spread, along with a whole lot of fun prop bets.

Here’s an example of what a single game NBA betting card looks like:

Check out our bet guide for more on moneyline bets, betting on the point spread and Over/Under bets.

Futures Betting

Futures betting extends beyond preseason championship predictions, allowing wagers to be placed throughout the season. While preseason favorites typically have odds around -250 or -300, teams expected to make the playoffs but not contend for the title might have odds in the +4000 to +5000 range. Futures bets can also be placed on division or conference winners, as well as major awards like MVP. Check out more about futures betting here.

Prop Bets

Proposition bets, or prop bets, are big in NBA playoff betting, offering bettors tons of options for each game. These bets can include over/under lines for individual player statistics such as points, rebounds, or assists.

Our example below shows a prop bet you can make on how many points LeBron James might score.

The playoffs’ limited game schedule allows us to create numerous prop bet lines, providing ample opportunities for you to get in on the action.