NBA Play-In Tournament Rules and Format Explained for 2024

NBA Play-In Tournament Rules and Format Explained for 2024

As the regular NBA season comes to an end and the post-season draws near, tensions start to rise, and the competitive nature of the game becomes ever more apparent.

One of the most popular professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has a tremendous following, and the playoffs bring in millions of viewers every season.

In recent years, the NBA has incorporated a play-in tournament that has mixed things up quite a bit, increasing the level of excitement and competitiveness in the league and for fans.

In the past, teams have been accused of tanking to get the first draft pick or rebuild, but with the new structure, more teams are in playoff contention with added incentive to play to the best of their abilities.

This 2022-2023 season marks the third installment of the play-in tournament and the race to secure a playoff spot is as close as ever, with many teams in both conferences separated by only one or two games.

Streamline your next basketball season  🏀
Use Diamond Scheduler's scheduling software to create your season's schedule in 2 minutes.

What are the NBA playoffs? The basics

The NBA playoffs have had various formats throughout the years.

The NBA playoffs have had a handful of different formats since its inception in 1947, but for over 20 years the league used a 16-team playoff structure where the top 8 ranked teams in each conference would make it into the playoffs.

In both the western and eastern conferences, teams play in a best-of-seven elimination style, where the 1st seed plays the 8th seed, the 2nd seed plays the 7th seed, etc.

In the 2019-2020 season, the league started to make changes to how the 8th and 7th seeds were determined, using a one-off style play-in game.

This addition allowed the 9th-seed teams in each conference to play against the 8th-seed teams if they were within 4 games of them.

If the 9th seed team could win two consecutive games against the 8th seed, they would advance to the playoffs, eliminating the prior 8th seed.

The following season, the NBA would adopt the controversial play-in tournaments.

Read More: Psychological Benefits of Youth Sports. Here are proven reasons why kids should play sports!

How does the NBA Play-in Tournament work?

‍Starting the 2020 to 2021 season, the NBA implemented the play-in tournament.

Unlike previous years where 8 teams from each conference secured a spot in the playoffs, 4 additional teams will now be in playoff contention making a total of 20 teams.

The play-in tournament is centered around the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th teams in each conference with the best winning percentage.

The idea of this tournament is to make the end of the regular season more incentivized, with the 7th and 8th seeds having to earn their way to the playoffs and the 9th and 10th teams given a chance to make it to the playoffs in a highly competitive playoff-like environment.

The way this works is that the 7th seed will host the 8th seed in the same conference with the winner advancing into and securing the 7th seed position.

The 9th seed will host the 10th seed in an elimination game where the winner goes on to play the loser of the seven-eight game.

The team that comes out on top of this game secures the 8th and final playoff spot.

From here, the NBA playoffs would commence as usual in the 16-team format.

While it may seem confusing at first glance, this type of tournament has been used in various sports leagues around the world and is commonly known as the McIntyre System.

The 2024 NBA Play-In Tournament will follow this same format.

Check out this video for a visual explanation of the NBA Play-In Tournament:

⌚ Save time and focus on the game
Sports can be time-consuming but, not scheduling games with Diamond Scheduler.

What are the rules of the NBA Play-In Tournament?

‍The NBA Play-In Tournament abides by the same in-game rules as the regular season, but how it's structured can be confusing to those that are used to the regular playoff format.

Here's a quick breakdown of the tournament rules:

  • The 7th and 8th seed of each conference competes with the winners securing the 7th seed in their respective conference.

  • The 9th and 10th seed of each conference competes in elimination games.

  • The winner of the nine-ten game plays the loser of the seven-eight game to determine which team secures the 8th and final playoff seed.

  • In both matchups, the higher-ranked team will host the game at-home court.

Read More: Schedule Constraints. Learn about the various schedule constraints and how they affect game days!

Frequently asked questions

How many games are in a play-in tournament?

‍There are 6 games played in the play-in tournament. Both the eastern and western conferences have the seven-eight game and the nine-ten game, and then the two games decide the 8th seed placement.

What happens to the losing teams in a play-in tournament?

‍The team that loses in the seven-eight matchup will go on to play the winner of the nine-ten game. The loser of the nine-ten game is eliminated from the tournament and thus their postseason ends.

Ready to create a balanced schedule in one click?😄
Create fair match-ups with Diamond Scheduler’s powerful round-robin algorithm.

Who receives a home-court advantage in play-in tournament games?

‍The higher-seeded teams will be given home-court advantage similar to the first three rounds of the Playoffs.

When does the 2023-2024 NBA Play-In Tournament start?

‍The 2023-2024 NBA Play-In Tournament will take place from April 16 through April 19. In the span of those four days, three games will take place in each conference.

How can fans get tickets to the NBA Play-In Tournament or where can they watch the games?

‍Tickets can be purchased on websites like Ticketmaster, Boxofficeticketsales, or Seatgeek. ESPN and TNT will each broadcast three games from the tournament.


‍The NBA Play-In Tournament has proven to be quite controversial among fans and players, but no doubt has been an exciting addition leading up to the playoffs.

With how competitive and close the 2022-2023 regular season has been, the tournament seems all the more justified by giving each team in close contention a chance to make it to the playoffs.

With the NBA Board of Governors making the play-in tournament format permanent, we'll likely see teams in both conferences gunning for those four spots for grabs toward the end of every season.

With how close the playoff run is now, it looks like NBA fans are in for some great games to come in the next couple of weeks.

Jeff Tipper is an avid sports fan who has a strong passion for basketball. A graduate of the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor's Degree in Operations Management, Jeff has experience in operations and claim processing and spends his free time writing articles and blogs focused on sports and various business topics.

Want to create a league season schedule in minutes?

Create custom round-robin game schedule combinations with multiple constraints in minutes.