NBA Play-in Tournament Explained | Schedule, Rules & Bracket
The NBA Playoffs are back, and the road to the Finals starts with the second-annual NBA Play-In Tournament.
The play-in tournament was new for 2021 and delivered drama and exhilarating results thanks in part to high-scoring, memorable games. Ironically, the play-in tournament last year featured some of the league’s biggest stars, and this year will be no different as a few underachieving clubs have the opportunity to right the ship and start their playoff run.
But maybe you’re a new basketball fan who doesn’t quite get how the tournament works, or a born-again NBA fan who has been brought back by gambling — don’t fret, I was the same way a year ago. Or maybe you just need a refresher course. Fortunately, we’re here to help.
NBA Playin Tournament Bracket 2022
How Does the NBA Play-In Tournament Work?
The NBA Play-In Tournament is pretty simple, actually. Teams seeded 1-6 in the Eastern and Western Conferences are assured of entry into the conference quarterfinals. From there, teams seeded 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 squared off for the final two seeds in their respective conference.
The highly touted Brooklyn Nets, who are still among the favorites to bring home the NBA title (+650 at Caesars), took care of business and claimed the No. 7 seed with a 115-108 win over the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers in the East’s 7-8 game. The Cavaliers will host the winner of the 9-10 game, which will feature the Charlotte Hornets playing against the 2021 Eastern Conference runner-up Atlanta Hawks.
Out West, the surprising seventh-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2018, rallying from down 10 in the fourth quarter to top the Los Angeles Clippers. The West’s 9-10 game has two sub-.500 clubs, the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans, squaring off at Smoothie King Center on Wednesday, with the winner trekking to LA to play the Clippers for the No. 8 seed on Friday.
Here’s a simpler look at the schedule:
- April 12
- No. 7 Brooklyn Nets 115, No. 8 Cleveland Cavaliers 108. Brooklyn earns East No. 7 seed.
- No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves 109, No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers 104. Minnesota earns West No. 7 seed.
- April 13
- No. 10 Charlotte Hornets at No. 9 Atlanta Hawks, 7 p.m. ET
- No. 10 San Antonio Spurs at No. 9 New Orleans Pelicans, 9:30 p.m. ET
- April 15
- Winner of Hawks/Hornets game at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7:30 p.m. ET
- Winner of Pelicans/Spurs game at Los Angeles Clippers, 10 p.m. ET
NBA Play-In Tournament History
The play-in tournament started in 2021 with the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies gaining entry into the playoffs in six memorable games. The Western Conference 7-8 game, between the Lakers and Golden State Warriors, drew more than 5 million viewers on ESPN.
Here’s a look back at the results from the 2021 play-in tournament:
- Eastern Conference
- No. 7 Boston 118, No. 8 Washington 100 — Boston earns East No. 7 seed
- No. 9 Indiana 144, No. 10 Charlotte 117 — Charlotte eliminated
- No. 8 Washington 142, No. 9 Indiana 115 — Washington earns East No. 8 seed, Indiana eliminated
- Western Conference
- No. 7 LA Lakers 103, No. 8 Golden State 100 — Los Angeles earns West No. 7 seed
- No. 9 Memphis 100, No. 10 San Antonio 96 — San Antonio eliminated
- No. 9 Memphis 117, No. 8 Golden State 112 (OT) — Memphis earns West No. 8 seed, Golden State eliminated
Why Did the NBA Change the Playoff Format?
TV, of course! Instead of a half-week of break leading up to the first round of the playoffs, the NBA produced four nights of must-watch action for its national-TV broadcast partners. Plus, four teams get at least one extra home date to sell playoff-priced tickets.
I was skeptical too when I heard the NBA would be letting 20 teams into the postseason. But the play-in tournament is a lot of fun, and it gets some marquee players — LeBron James, Steph Curry, Jayson Tatum, and Bradley Beal in 2021 — and budding stars like Ja Morant last season a chance to breakout on the biggest stage.
Plus, the NBA Playoffs are among the most dramatic sporting events on the calendar, especially as they progress to the conference finals and Finals. The league undoubtedly wanted to capture some of that earlier in the tournament to build momentum and viewership even though the conference quarterfinals tend to be lopsided.
Who is Playing in the 2022 Play-In Tournament?
Here’s a look at the teams presently occupying the eight play-in spots.
No. 7 Brooklyn Nets (44-38)
The Nets have put their fans through a roller-coaster ride and a half this season. Brooklyn was the best team in the Eastern Conference and a bona fide championship contender, led by MVP hopeful Kevin Durant through 30-or-so games. Yet, injuries — notably to Durant and 3-point sharpshooter Joe Harris — and off-court drama, surrounding mercurial guard Kyrie Irving‘s playing status after his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine, led to the James Harden trade to Philadelphia. Brooklyn lost 29 of its final 50 games, falling from the top spot in the East to a guaranteed spot in the play-in tournament, but clinched the No. 7 seed by beating the Cavs.
No. 8 Cleveland Cavaliers (44-38)
The Cavaliers had been flirting with the East’s No. 6 seed for much of the regular season, but injuries to two of their top players, guard Evan Mobley and forward Jarrett Allen have relegated them to the play-in tournament. Still, Darius Garland is a great scorer, and Cleveland plays terrific defense — it finished the season with the fifth-fewest points allowed per game (105.7) in the league — which means it will be a tough outcome playoff time.
No. 9 Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
The Eastern Conference runners-up from a year ago have underachieved despite another MVP-caliber season from superstar guard Trae Young, who scored the most points of any NBA player this season and finished T3 in points-per-game average (28.4), but appear to be peaking at the proper time yet again. The Hawks started the season 17-25 and appeared on the brink of falling into they abyss in the East, yet they turned it around with a seven-game win streak in January and another five-game streak at the end of March and beginning of April. No one should want to play Atlanta come playoff time.
No. 10 Charlotte Hornets (43-39)
The Hornets can play offense with anyone, averaging the fourth-most points in the NBA (115.3). Unfortunately, they allow the sixth-most points in the league (114.9), which is why they finished as the 10-seed in the East.
Still, Charlotte ranks sixth in 3-point percentage (.365) and has seven players averaging double-figure points per game, including three players — Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, and LaMelo Ball — averaging 19-plus points per game.
No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves (46-36)
If you’re a basketball fan, or even if you just bet this team to make the playoffs at +610 like I did, you should be super-happy to see Minnesota back in the playoffs. The T-Wolves, who have made just one postseason appearance (2018) since 2004, have a fun team loaded with young, budding stars like MVP darkhorse Karl-Anthony Towns and guard Anthony Edwards and are leading the NBA in points per game (115.9).
No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers (42-40)
The Clippers have dealt with injuries to superstars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all season, yet George returned in late March and Leonard is reportedly prepared to come back if LA can find its way out of the play-in tournament.
That’s no lock based on the Clippers’ track record, and the tournament’s uncertainty. But given the fact George played just 31 games this season, and Leonard hasn’t suited up yet while recovering from knee surgery, LA would look extremely dangerous if it can get in the field with each close to 100 percent.
No. 9 New Orleans Pelicans (36-46)
Detractors of the play-in tournament have a very clear case with the West’s Nos. 9 and 10 seeds — more on the Spurs below — but New Orleans has been one of the league’s bottom feeders all year yet still have championship hopes despite finishing 10 games under .500.
Still, if the Pels can get star forward Zion Williamson, who hasn’t played all season while battling a foot injury, back for the play-in tournament, they could have a puncher’s chance of qualifying for the 8-seed. With Zion and great guards C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram, New Orleans could be formidable especially in the one-and-done style format of the play-in tournament.
No. 10 San Antonio Spurs (34-48)
The fact the Spurs, and not the Lakers, will occupy the final postseason spot in the West is a testament to Gregg Popovich‘s coaching — as well as Los Angeles’ stunning, season-long malaise. Still, the fact San Antonio kept the likes of LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis out of the playoffs entirely, proves it must’ve done something right, especially down the stretch.
These are not your father’s Spurs, but led by Dejounte Murray, they score the eighth-most points per game in the league (113.2) and rebound the ball as well. San Antonio ranks ninth in the NBA in rebounds (45.3 per game) and second in assists per game (28).
How to Bet on the NBA Play-In Tournament
Betting on the play-in tournament is a breeze, depending on what you’re interested in betting. With the field set, moneyline odds, spreads and totals are now available. Here’s a look at the current odds, via Caesars, as of 10 a.m. on April 11:
Cavaliers (+320 ML) at Nets (-420); Spread: Nets by 8.5. O/U: 229.5
Clippers (+125 ML) at Timberwolves (-145); Timberwolves by 2.5. O/U: 230.5
Hornets (+160) at Hawks (-190); Hawks by 4.5. O/U: 237
Spurs (+170) at Pelicans (-200); Pelicans by 5. O/U: 229
Betting Tips for the Play-In Tournament
Bet teams that are playing well while entering the one-and-done format, especially those that are getting healthy and/or finding continuity. Talent can only take you so far, as the Lakers and Nets have proven this year.
NBA Play-In Tournament Promotions
There will undoubtedly be boosts and prop promos come play-in time — aside from the aforementioned wagers we mentioned above. Be on the lookout for those in the coming days.