NBA Playoffs 2021: Play-in Tournament Bracket, How to Watch on TV and Online

If the Los Angeles Lakers are to defend their NBA title they will have to enter the playoffs via the backdoor. Seven months after winning a record-equalling 17th NBA title in October, the Lakers finished the regular season as the seventh seed in the Western Conference.

Ordinarily that would have been enough to earn a postseason berth, but the NBA's decision to introduce a play-in tournament to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference means the Lakers will play the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

The winner of the matchup between Lakers and Warriors—who finished eighth in the Western Conference—will advance to the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western Conference, while the loser will play the winner of the second play-in game, which pits the San Antonio Spurs against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The same scenario applies to the Eastern Conference, where the No. 7 seeded Boston Celtics face the No. 8 seeded Washington Wizards and the Indiana Pacers play the Charlotte Hornets in the matchup of the ninth and 10th seed.

The play-in tournament will run from Tuesday, May 18 until Friday, May 21, with the NBA Playoffs starting the following day.

The playoffs will follow the traditional format consisting of three, best-of-seven series all the way through the NBA Finals.

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

NBA play-in tournament TV coverage

Coverage of the play-in tournament will be split across TNT and ESPN, which will also carry coverage of the first two rounds of the playoffs. As ever, the NBA Finals will be broadcast exclusively on ABC.

NBA play-in tournament online coverage

The play-in tournament can be streamed live on WatchESPN and WatchTNT, as well as via fuboTV.

NBA play-in tournament seeding

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.

NBA play-in tournament format

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.

NBA play-in tournament schedule

Eastern Conference—Tuesday, May 18

  1. Charlotte Hornets at Indiana Pacers—6:30 p.m. ET, TNT
  2. Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics—9 p.m. ET, TNT

Western Conference—Wednesday, May 19

  1. San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies—7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  2. Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers—10 p.m. ET, ESPN

Eastern Conference—Thursday, May 20

  • Winner of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2—8 p.m. ET, TNT

Western Conference—Friday, May 21

  • Winner of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2—TBD, ESPN
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Golden State Warriors during the game at Chase Center on March 15 in San Francisco, California. The Lakers play the Warriors in the play-in tournament on Wednesday. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images