NBA Play-in Tournament: Format Explained, Teams for 2021 Playoffs

For the second consecutive year, the play-in tournament will be a feature of the NBA Playoffs.

The NBA first introduced the format last year when the coronavirus pandemic shortened its regular season and has retained the system in place for the current season, which was played across 72 games as opposed to the traditional 82.

While the tournament adds a new layer of intrigue to the postseason, it has already gathered an illustrious list of critics, with four-time NBA champion LeBron James, Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic and Mavs owner Mark Cuban all scathing of the format.

James will get to personally experience of the play-in tournament, as the Los Angeles Lakers, the reigning NBA champions, face the Golden State Warriors in a star-studded matchup on Wednesday.

Here's all you need to know about the play-in tournament.

When does the play-in tournament begin?

The play-in tournament starts on Tuesday, May 18 with the Eastern Conference matchups, followed by the Western Conference Games a day later. The games between the losers of the No. 7 vs No. 8 matchups and the winners of the No. 9 vs No. 10 matchups are scheduled for May 20 and May 21 in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference respectively.

The first round of the NBA playoffs gets underway on May 22.

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Chase Center on March 15 in San Francisco, California. The Lakers play the Warriors in the play-in tournament. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

How does it work?

Since the NBA Playoffs expanded to a 16-team format in 1984, the top-eight ranked teams in each conference at the end of the regular season automatically secured a postseason berth

Last season, however, the NBA introduced a play-in tournament to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus-shortened regular season.

The system has remained in place this year and means that only the top six-ranked teams in each conference secure a postseason berth, with the next four teams in each conference having to qualify.

The winner of the matchup between the No. 7 and No. 8 seed will qualify to the playoffs as the seventh seed, while the loser will face the winner of the game between the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds for the final postseason berth.

The loser of the game between the No.9 and No. 10 seed will be automatically eliminated from playoff contention. The two teams coming through the play-in tournament will complete the traditional eight-team playoffs picture and the 2021 NBA postseason will follow the traditional format consisting of three, best-of-seven series all the way through the NBA Finals.

Which teams are in the tournament?

Four teams in each conference take part in the play-in tournament. In the Eastern Conference, the No. 10 seed Charlotte Hornets face the No. 9 seed Indiana Pacers on the road, while the No. 7 Boston Celtics host the No. 8 Washington Wizards.

In the Western Conference, the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers host the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors, while the No. 9 seed Memphis Grizzlies welcome the No. 10 San Antonio Spurs.