Making the NBA playoffs in 2021 is a little more complicated than it has been in years past. While there are still eight postseason teams in each conference, the new play-in tournament has cut down the numbers of teams that clinch a playoff berth at the end of the regular season. Only the top six seeds in the East and West earn an automatic spot in the final playoff picture. The top eight teams in each conference have historically qualified for the NBA playoffs, but not anymore. Teams seeded No. 7-10 in each conference will compete in the two-round tournament in between the conclusion of the regular season and the start of the postseason.
After experimenting with a ‘play-in’ game at the bubble last season, the NBA is holding an expanded play-in tournament for the first time ever to determine the last two seeds in the playoffs in each conference. The play-in tournament will begin on May 18 and conclude on May 21, just one day before the start of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. The No. 7 and No. 8 seeds have an advantage. They only need one victory to make the postseason. The No. 9 and No. 10 seeds can only make the playoffs by winning two straight games. In the first round of the play-in tournament, each conference’s No. 7 seed will host the No. 8 seed. The No. 9 seed will host the No. 10 seed in the first round. For more information on the matter, check the official NBA website.
Play-In Tournament Rules
- The No. 7 seed will face the No. 8 seed in each conference. The winner of that game becomes the No. 7 seed in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
- The No. 9 seed faces the No. 10 seed in each conference. The loser of that game is eliminated from playoff contention and will be in the lottery.
- The loser of the 7-8 game then plays the winner of the 9-10 game for the No. 8 and final seed in the playoffs.
The No. 8 seed will face the No. 1 seed in the conference quarterfinals.
The 2021 play-in tournament starts May 18. The play-in tournament concludes May 21, the day before the NBA playoffs officially tip-off.
Why Was the Play-In Tournament Introduced?
The league wanted to make the end of the regular season more meaningful while also creating a ‘Game 7’ atmosphere with early elimination games heading into the playoffs. The play-in tournament was also seen as a way to deter tanking.
The introduction of the play-in tournament has unquestionably created more drama during the final stretch of the regular season. The No. 6 seed has now become a hotly contested battle in each conference as teams try to avoid needing to qualify for the playoffs through the play-in tournament. The No. 7 and No. 8 seeds have also become contested because it provides more margin for error in the play-in tournament that the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds don’t have as they face an elimination game to start the tournament.
If the season ended today, the matchups would be:
- Golden State Warriors (No. 8) at Los Angeles Lakers (No. 7)
- San Antonio Spurs (No. 10) at Memphis Grizzlies (No. 9)
- Charlotte Hornets (No. 8) at Boston Celtics (No. 7)
- Indiana Pacers (No. 10) at Washington Wizards (No. 9)
And here are the most likely participants in each conference, via projections using BPI, which factors in injuries, strength of schedule and the on-court impact of each rotation player.
Most likely to make West Game 1 (No. 7 vs. No. 8)
- Golden State Warriors: 81.4%
- Los Angeles Lakers: 81.3%
- Memphis Grizzlies: 18.6%
- Portland Trail Blazers: 14.5%
- Dallas Mavericks: 4.1%
Most likely to make West Game 2 (No. 9 vs. No. 10)
- San Antonio Spurs: 97.3%
- Memphis Grizzlies: 81.4%
- Golden State Warriors: 18.6%
- New Orleans Pelicans: 1.7%
- Sacramento Kings: 1.0%
Most likely to make East Game 1 (No. 7 vs. No. 8)
- Boston Celtics: 82.2%
- Charlotte Hornets: 80.2%
- Washington Wizards: 15.5%
- Miami Heat: 9.3%
- New York Knicks: 8.0%
Most likely to make East Game 2 (No. 9 vs. No. 10)
- Indiana Pacers: 94.5%
- Washington Wizards: 84.1%
- Charlotte Hornets: 19.8%
- Chicago Bulls: 1.7%
Thoughts on the Play-In Tournament
For the Los Angeles Lakers, the defending champions might have to begin their quest for a repeat in the play-in tourney while waiting for LeBron James to return to full health. Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hornets are hopeful that they can return to the postseason for the first time since 2016. Teams looking to avoid the play-in tourney will get the benefit of additional rest and time to prepare for their first-round opponent. The play-in adds a fascinating wrinkle to the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason. The NBA is changing and you can learn more about it in our NBA section.
Teams were already less incentivized to tank games down the stretch because of the flattened lottery odds instituted in 2019. Now that the top 10 teams in the standings will finish the regular season with at least a chance to make the playoffs, more franchises will stay in the mix for longer. Some people, like LeBron and Dallas Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic, are less than thrilled about the prospect of the play-in tournament, but we should expect some heated contests as teams push to make it into — or above — the play-in fray.
James’ ankle injury has put the Lakers in jeopardy of needing to go through the play-in tournament to qualify for the playoffs. James has gone on the record saying he doesn’t the idea of the play-in tournament. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has also been critical of the play-in tournament. Here’s what he told ESPN earlier this year:
“The worst part of this approach is that it doubles the stress of the compressed schedule. Rather than playing for a playoff spot and being able to rest players as the standings become clearer, teams have to approach every game as a playoff game to either get into or stay in the top 6 since the consequences, as Luka said, are enormous. So players are playing more games and more minutes in fewer days.”
“In hindsight, this approach was an enormous mistake.”
NBA Bitcoin Betting
The play-in tournament adds a whole new dimension when it comes to NBA betting. It increases the number of playoff games which means there are more options for people to bet on. Additionally, teams have to be careful because finishing 7/8th could mean nothing if you lose the play-in matchup. All of this will make Bitcoin Betting extremely popular in the coming weeks. The play-in tournament begins on the 17th and we expect a lot of excitement to come with it.
We suggest visiting the Coinbet24 Bitcoin Sportsbook to find the best NBA odds and markets for all the play-in and playoff games.