NBA Playoffs 2020: How does the play-in structure work?

Zion Williamson, #1, New Orleans Pelicans, (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson, #1, New Orleans Pelicans, (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

The NBA’s plan to resume the 2019-20 season includes a new structure for teams to play their way into the NBA Playoffs. How does it all work?

When the NBA announced their plan to resume the 2019-20 season, it included a new wrinkle — a set-up for a “play-in tournament.” It’s something that many fans have been clamoring for, a chance to add competitiveness and intrigue to a long regular season.

What the NBA has announced is obviously shaped and necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and calling it a “tournament” might be a stretch. But it’s still an interesting new structure that, if successful, could be incorporated into future seasons in a different format.

How does the NBA Playoffs play-in structure work?

To start, 22 teams have been invited to Walt Disney World, where the NBA will be restarting the regular-season with eight games for each team. The invitees include the 16 teams currently in playoff position, as well as the other six who could mathematically play their way through in eight games.

After the eight regular-season games are played, the top seven seeds in each conference will move to the playoffs. If the ninth-place team in either conference is within four games of the eighth-place team in the standings, it would trigger the “play-in tournament.” The ninth-place team would have to beat the eight-place team in two consecutive games to take their spot. From there, the playoffs will be conducted and seeded as usual, with best-of-seven series taking us through the NBA Finals.

There’s obviously no guarantee that we’ll even see these play-in games. The Washington Wizards are currently ninth in the East, 5.5 games behind the eight-seeded Orlando Magic. Five teams (Trail Blazers, Spurs, Suns, Pelicans and Kings) will be trying to knock the Grizzlies out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference but Memphis starts with a lead of at least 3.5 games over all of them.

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