How Do The NBA Playoffs Work?

How Do The NBA Playoffs Work

The NBA Playoffs are the most exciting time of the year in professional basketball. A postseason tournament with a unique qualifying format, the NBA Playoffs determine that year’s NBA champions. Keep reading to learn how the NBA Playoffs work.

NBA Playoffs

The NBA Playoffs is an annual tournament that ends the National Basketball Association’s season in the spring. It consists of the Play-In tournament, the First Round, the Conference Semifinals, the Conference Finals, and the NBA Finals. Each round of the Playoffs lasts two weeks, and the playoffs themselves last a total of eight weeks.

The playoffs usually begin in mid-April and last until mid-June. The playoffs consist of the top eight teams from both the Eastern and Western conferences, and those teams from each conference compete to eliminate each other until the last team in each conference plays each other in the finals. 

NBA Play-In Tournament

The NBA Play In Tournament

The NBA Play-In Tournament is an eight-team tournament used to determine the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference for the NBA Playoffs. The NBA Play-In tournament was added to the playoffs to give the ninth and tenth-place teams in each conference a chance to play in the playoffs. Technically, the play-in tournament is not a part of the regular season or playoffs, and exists as its own entity. However, many fans consider it the start of postseason basketball in the NBA.

NBA Play-In Tournament Format

The Play-In tournament consists of the seventh through tenth highest-ranked teams in each conference. Seventh and eighth place compete against each other, and ninth and tenth place compete against each other. The winner of the 7/8 game automatically gets the seventh spot in the playoffs. The loser of the 9/10 game is eliminated, and the winner plays the loser of the 7/8 game. The winner of that game gets the eighth spot in the playoffs.

NBA Playoffs Format

The NBA Playoffs consist of four rounds, which are:

  • The First Round
  • The Conference Semifinals (Second Round)
  • The Conference Finals
  • The NBA Finals

First Round

nba playoffs first round

There are four matchups in each conference, and each matchup has seven games. The first team to win four out of seven games in each matchup advances to the next round. There is no need to play all seven games in many instances because a team wins four games before game seven. The team with the better record has the home-court advantage, meaning four out of the seven games played will be at their home stadium.

 In the first round, the matchups are as follows:

  • 1 seed vs. 8 seed
  • 2 seed vs. 7 seed
  • 3 seed vs. 6 seed
  • 4 seed vs. 5 seed 

Conference Semifinals

nba playoffs conference semifinals

The NBA Playoffs Conference Semifinals are the second round of the playoffs. In each conference, the winners of each of the four previous matchups face off against each other in another round best-of-seven games. The rules for home-court advantage continue to apply in the Conference Semifinals. Home court advantage is very important in the Conference Semifinals; data shows that teams with home-court advantage won the Conference Semifinals 80% of the time.

Conference Finals

nba playoffs conference finals

The NBA Playoffs Conference Finals are the third round of the playoffs. In the Conference Finals, the two remaining teams in each conference compete against each other for the conference title. The rules for home-court advantage also apply in the Conference Finals. Home-court advantage is less important in the Conference Finals; data shows that teams with home-court advantage won the Conference Finals 50% of the time.

The Conference Finals show the best teams in the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively. The team that wins four out of seven games in each Conference Final moves on to the NBA Finals and has a chance to win the NBA Championship Title.

NBA Finals

nba finals

The NBA Finals are the final round of the playoffs and determine the overall winner NBA Champion for the season. The rules for home-court advantage apply in the NBA Finals, and the advantage is very important in the NBA Finals; data shows that teams with home-court advantage win the NBA Finals 80% of the time. The Finals are the last set of seven games, and the team that reaches four wins is crowned NBA Champion and awarded the Larry O’Brian Championship Trophy.

Home Court Advantage

Home court advantage during the playoffs is determined by using each team's seed, which is based on their regular season win-loss record. For example, when the third seed plays the sixth, the third seed will begin the matchup with home-court advantage because they are ranked higher. The first two games of the matchup are played at the court of whichever team has the highest ranking or seed. Those first two home games are followed by two away games, one home game, one away game, and one home game, if necessary. However, not all of those games are played in each matchup depending on whether or not one team wins four games before all seven have been played.


How many teams make the NBA Playoffs?

A total of 16 teams make the NBA Playoffs. Eight teams from each of the two NBA Conferences (Eastern and Western) make it to the playoffs. The first six seeds from each conference automatically make the playoffs, while the seventh and eighth seeds are determined by the NBA Play-In Tournament. The seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth-ranked teams from each conference play each other in the Play-in to determine the two remaining seeds in both conferences.

What is the NBA playoff format?

The format of the NBA Playoffs is a 16-team, four-round, seven-game series, bracket tournament. Teams are eliminated after losing four games in a single round. Eight teams from each of the two conferences make the playoffs and are seeded according to their regular-season records. The seventh and eighth seeds of the NBA Playoffs in each conference are determined by the results of the Play-In Tournament.