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How will the NBA play-in tournament work this season?

Coronavirus has already led to big changes to the current NBA season. The total number of games has been reduced from 82 to 72, with the pandemic also delaying the start of the season schedule.

And then there are the big changes to the overall format leading up to the all-important play-offs. Before the start of the season, the NBA Board of Governors approved a one time “play-in tournament”, which will help lower ranked teams get their place in the play offs.

The play-in tournament will take place between Tuesday, May 18 and Friday, May 21, after the initial season finishes. But with just a few weeks to go before it kicks off, many are still wondering: how will this work?

The NBA season so far

The 2020/21 season has been split into two halves. The first half took place between December 22 and March 4, with the second kicking off on March 11, finishing on May 16.

But with the decreased amount of games, the league has had to drastically alter how the seventh and eighth playoff spots are determined. And this is where the play-in tournament comes in.

What is the play-in tournament and how does it work?

The four-day play-in tournament will take place after the regular season ends, to finalize the seventh and eighth playoff spots for each conference. Here, teams with the seventh highest through to the tenth highest winning percentages will face off.

Each team will have two opportunities to win one game and earn a spot in the play-offs, but it’ll be harder for lower ranked teams. The teams with the ninth and tenth highest winning percentages in each conference have to win two consecutive games to earn their place.

So, once the regular season is over, the team with the seventh highest percentage in each conference will host the team with the eighth for the first play-in games. The teams with the ninth highest percentage will host those with the tenth.

The winners of the seven-eight game in each conference will earn the no.7 seed. As for who gets the no.8 seed, the loser of the seven-eight game will hose the winner of the nine-ten game to determine who ascends to the play-offs from each conference.

From there, it’ll be business as usual. The NBA playoffs will kick off on Saturday, May 22 with the traditional 16 team, best of seven structure.

With these plans unanimously approved by the Board of Governors, it seems like this is the best way for the traditional NBA season to take place with as little interruption as possible.

Which teams are most likely to face the Play-ins?

With the second half of the NBA season currently underway, teams in all conferences are doing all they can to avoid the play-ins. But which teams are most likely to have to fight for a place in the play-offs like this?

One thing we wouldn’t have predicted before this season is that the Los Angeles Lakers may be fighting for survival. They’re the reigning champions of the tournament - but having lost both LeBron James and Anthony Davis is affecting their chances.

The team hasn’t had the best season, and their upcoming game schedule is one of the hardest in the league by opponent record. Even if their star players were still fit and ready, the pressure would be on - two wins against the Dallas Mavericks, who they’re playing twice, could be the key to stopping them facing the play-ins.

However, at the time of writing, the Lakers are still holding onto fifth place in the Western conference, enough to guarantee a spot in the play-offs. So, who are the four teams most likely to battle it out?

In seventh place are the aforementioned Dallas Mavericks, who are in a crucial period of the season. With 29 wins next to sixth place Portland Trailblazers with 30, they could easily claim their spot in the playoffs.

The Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors round out the current Western conference top 10. And over in the Eastern conference, things are equally tense.

The Nets and the 76ers are top of the table, with the clear advantage over the rest of the conference. In places seven to ten are the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls.

In some cases, here, there’s only one-win separating teams from making it into the all-important final 6. And although there’s still a lot to play for before we know who will be duking it out for survival, many fans are already betting on which teams will make the cut. Now that several states have legalised sports betting over the last couple of years, more fans than ever will be placing a bet on the current NBA season keeping an eye on the clear favorites and team performances across the country.

The Brooklyn Nets are currently the favourite to win the season, while the Los Angeles Lakers are still hanging on in second place. But will their fortunes change?

With a month of games left before we know who will be sent to the play-ins, the current NBA season is shaping up to be the most unpredictable in years. With the chance the defending champions may miss their spot, all eyes are on the road to the play-ins.