NBA Play-in Tournament Explained | Schedule, Rules & Bracket

Last Updated: Aug 30, 2023

The NBA Playoffs have reinvented how postseason tournaments are played, largely due to the NBA Play-In Tournament.

The league rolled out the six-game mini-tournament in 2021, giving four clubs in each conference the opportunity to win their way into the postseason field. It has delivered exceptional games and moments, most recently in 2023 when the Miami Heat qualified as the No. 8 seed before making the NBA Finals.

Whether you’re a new basketball fan who doesn’t quite get how the tournament works, a born-again NBA fan who has been brought back by gambling, or need a refresher course, don’t fret. We’re here to help.

NBA Play-in Tournament Bracket 2024

The NBA Play-In Tournament bracket will be unveiled when the field for the 2024 tournament is set.

How Does the NBA Play-In Tournament Work?

The NBA Play-In Tournament is simple. Teams seeded Nos. 1 through 6 in the Eastern and Western Conferences are assured of entry into the first round, while those seeded Nos. 7 through 10 square off for the final two seeds in their respective conference.

Last year, the Nos. 7-10 in the East were the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, and Chicago Bulls. Out west, the Los Angeles Lakers earned the No. 7, followed by the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Heat were the No. 7 seed but lost in the first play-in game to Atlanta. They then rallied to defeat the Bulls, who had defeated Toronto, and earn the No. 8 seed.

The Lakers won the No. 7 seed by defeating the Timberwolves. Minnesota then clinched the No. 8 seed with a victory over the Thunder.

NBA Play-In Tournament History

Some of the NBA’s most legendary franchises and biggest stars have participated in the play-in, including the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Golden State Warriors, plus superstars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and more.

History is still being made since there have only been three previous tournaments. Not only did two play-in qualifiers win a playoff series in 2023, but each advanced to its respective conference final, including Miami which reached the championship round.

Here’s a look back at the results from the 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament:

  • Eastern Conference
    • No. 8 Atlanta 116, No. 7 Miami 105 — Atlanta earns East No. 7 seed
    • No. 10 Chicago 109, No. 9 Toronto 105 — Toronto eliminated
    • No. 7 Miami 102, No. 10 Chicago 91 — Miami earns East No. 8 seed, Chicago eliminated
  • Western Conference
    • No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers 108, No. 8 Minnesota 102 (OT) — LA earns West No. 7 seed
    • No. 10 Oklahoma City 123, No. 9 New Orleans 118 — New Orleans eliminated
    • No. 8 Minnesota 120, No. 10 Oklahoma City 95 — Minnesota earns West No. 8 seed, OKC eliminated

Why Did the NBA Change the Playoff Format?

TV, of course! Instead of a break leading up to the first round of the playoffs, the NBA produced multiple nights of must-watch action for its broadcast partners. Plus, four teams get at least one extra home date to sell playoff-priced tickets.

I was skeptical when I heard the NBA would be letting 20 teams into the postseason, but the play-in is a lot of fun, and it gets some marquee players from lesser-known markets a chance to show out 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, as the first round tends to be lopsided.

Who is Playing in the 2024 Play-In Tournament?

We’ll find out when as the NBA Playoffs get closer to tipping off.

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 playing. Now that the matchups are set, there are moneylines, spreads, props, and more to wager, plus each wager will have boosted parlays and props to consider as well.

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, but it does also typically prevail in a single game.

Be sure to consult head-to-head histories between the teams that will play, given the fact that teams that match up well will continue to do so in the play-in tournament.

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.


Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered pro sports since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times,, Bleacher Report,, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

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