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How Do NBA Playoffs Work? Everything You Need to Know


How do NBA playoffs work? Well, like most American sports, you might find the competition format confusing, if you’re new to the game. The season consists of the regular and post-season, with teams competing in either the Eastern or Western conferences.

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The NBA Playoffs represent the post-season and are the most exciting time of the year. In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the NBA playoffs.

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Qualification to the NBA Playoffs

How Do NBA Playoffs Work? Everything You Need to Know
Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0

After 82 games in the regular season, the eight teams with the best win-loss record, from the Western and Eastern conferences, make it to the NBA playoffs.

The first six teams in each conference with the best records are guaranteed a post-season slot. And those between 7th to 10th go through to the play-in tournament to determine the remaining two slots on each side. The play-in tournament precedes the playoffs, which contains 16 teams.

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The NBA Play-in Tournament Explained

Breakdown of the NBA Play-in Tournament. Video Credit: Bleacher Report

The play-in tournament consists of the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th teams. The 7th-placed team plays the 8th and the winner qualifies for the playoffs. The 9th team goes against the 10th and the winner progresses to the next stage. The losers of the 7th and 8th games play against the winner of the 9th and 10th games and the winners join the playoffs. Losers are eliminated.

2024 Play-in Tournament Schedule

Tuesday, April 16
No. 7 New Orleans Pelicans vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers
No. 9 Sacramento Kings vs. No. 10 Golden State Warriors

Wednesday, April 17
No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 8 Miami Heat
No. 9 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 10 Atlanta Hawks

Friday, April 19

Eastern conference No. 7/8 vs. East No. 9/10

Western conference No. 7/8 vs. West No. 9/10

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How Does Seeding in the NBA Work?

How Do NBA Playoffs Work? Everything You Need to Know
An NBA Game. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-Zero

During the playoffs, these teams compete in the best of seven games in an elimination series. The teams’ seeds are from first to eighth with the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second the seventh in that order. After every round, teams receive new seeds until only one team remains.

A head-to-head record is used as a tiebreaker, if there’s a tie in the seeds. In case the head-to-head record is the same, then their divisional records are used, if both teams come from the same division. If they’re still tied, then the conference record is used to determine the seed. 

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NBA Playoff Format

NBA Playoff format. Video Credit: The Numbers Behind

The NBA playoffs occur in four rounds

  • First Round
  • Conference Semifinals
  • Conference Finals
  • NBA Final

The games take a best-of-seven format meaning that each game can go up to seven games. That said, the first team to win four games wins the round. The team with the best regular season plays at home, in a 2-2-1-1-1 home and away format. In each round, the better team gets a home-court advantage as it hosts games 1,2,5,7. 

Here’s what the matchups for the first rounds look like in each conference:

  • 1st seed vs. 8th seed
  • 2nd seed vs. 7th seed
  • 3rd seed vs. 6th seed
  • 4th seed vs. 5th seed 

Conference Semi-Finals

The four teams from each conference proceed to the conference semi-finals. The best-of-seven-game and the home and away formats continue.  

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Conference Finals

The remaining two teams from each conference compete for a place in the NBA finals and the conference title. The game and home and away formats apply. 

NBA Finals

The winners of the Eastern and Western conference meet in the NBA Final for a chance to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. The final is contested in a best-of-seven. The team that wins the first four games becomes the champion. But sometimes, the winner is determined in the seventh game. 

NBA Playoffs Team 2024

Eastern ConferenceWestern Conference
Boston CelticsOklahoma City
New York KnicksDenver Nuggets
Milwaukee BucksMinnesota Timberwolves
Cleveland CavaliersLA Clippers
Orlando MagicDallas Mavericks
Indiana PacersPhoenix Suns
Information courtesy of

2024 NBA Playoffs Schedule & Key Dates

  • April 20: NBA playoffs first round begins 
  • May 6-7: NBA conference semifinals begin 
  • May 21-22: NBA conference finals begin 
  • June 6: NBA Finals begin 

If you’ve gotten to the end of this article, we hope the answers to the question “How do the NBA playoffs work” are sufficient. It’s what all basketball fans look forward to and now that you know how it all works, you’re bound to enjoy the playoffs.  

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