How Do The NBA Playoffs Work?


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. 

The NBA Play-In Tournament

The NBA Play In Tournament

Purpose of the NBA Play-In Tournament

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. 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.

When Was the NBA Play-In Tournament Created?

The NBA Play-In was introduced in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic because the NBA sought to still have their playoffs in a bubble despite still being in the middle of the global pandemic. Before the 2021 Playoffs, the NBA announced the Play-In Tournament would continue to be a part of the postseason regardless of the state of the pandemic’s progression.

First Round

There are four matchups in each conference, and each matchup has seven games. The first team to win the most 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. In the first round, first place plays against eighth, second place plays seventh, third place plays sixth, and fourth place plays fifth. 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. 

Home Court Advantage

Home court advantage during the playoffs is determined by using each team's ranking or place; for example, when third-place plays sixth, third place will begin the matchup with home-court advantage. The first two games of the matchup are played at the court of whichever team has the highest-ranking or place. Those first two home games are followed by two away games, one home game, one away game, and one home game; however, not all of those games are played each matchup depending on whether or not one team wins four games before all seven have been played.

Conference Semifinals

The NBA playoffs Conference Semifinals is 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

The NBA Playoffs Conference Finals are the third round of the playoffs. In the Conference Finals, the final two teams in each conference compete against each other in the final round of seven games. 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 team in the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively. The team that wins the most games in each Conference Final moves on to the NBA Finals and has a chance to win the NBA Championship Title.

NBA Finals

The NBA Playoffs Finals is the final round of the playoffs and determines the overall winner of the tournament. 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 wins the most games claims the Larry O’Brian Championship Trophy.