Trail Blazers

NBA Playoffs 2021: Play-In Tournament guide with format, rules

Trail Blazers

The race to the NBA playoffs is heating up. If the playoffs ended today, the Portland Trail Blazers would narrowly avoid the Play-In Tournament and qualify as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Though they hold the same record as the Dallas Mavericks, they own the tiebreaker after taking the regular season series, 2-1.

Despite holding a current playoff spot, the Blazers look to remain consistent as the season winds down. They have lost five of their last six games, and as the playoffs draw near, every game counts. 

For those who want to see what happens if the Blazers slip into a spot in the Play-In Tournament, here's everything you need to know:

What is the Play-In Tournament?

The NBA Play-In Tournament is a new format the league introduced to determine the eight playoff teams from each conference.

The league had already tested a version of the play-in format last summer when teams like the Blazers took part in the 2020 NBA restart in Orlando.

At the time, the Blazers played the Memphis Grizzlies to earn a berth in the Western Conference playoffs. There was no play-in game for the Eastern Conference playoffs.


When would the Blazers play in the Play-In Tournament?

The Play-In Tournament will begin May 18, two days after the Blazers' final regular season game against the Denver Nuggets on May 16.

The last game of the tournament will be May 21, with the first round of the NBA playoffs tipping off May 22.

How does the Play-In Tournament's structure impact the Blazers?

The Play-In Tournament will have six games involving eight teams, split up between the two conferences.

The Blazers would need to finish Nos. 1-6 in the Western Conference standings to qualify for the playoffs. If they finish Nos. 7-10, the Blazers will take part in the Play-In Tournament. 

The NBA will use winning percentage to determine the standings.

Game 1: The highest-winning percentage team at No. 7 in each conference will host the highest-winning percentage team at No. 8 to compete for the seventh seed in the playoffs. The losing team will have a second chance to make the playoffs in Game 3. 

Game 2: The team with the highest winning percentage at No. 9 in each conference will host the team with the highest winning percentage at No. 10. The winner will play for a playoff berth in Game 3, while the losing team will enter the NBA draft lottery.

Game 3: The losing team of No. 7 vs. No. 8 (Game 1) will play the winning team of No. 9 vs. No. 10 (Game 2) for the eighth seed in the playoffs. The losing team will enter the NBA draft lottery.

Could Portland host a Play-In Tournament game?

With the COVID-19 vaccines continuing to roll out, the NBA has no plans to bring back the bubble. The Play-In Tournament will be held at home arenas, with the highest-winning percentage teams hosting each game.

The Blazers are currently the No. 6 seed, but there's a possibility that the Moda Center could host a single-elimination playoff game this spring if they slip in the standings.


Are the Blazers projected to be in the Play-In Tournament?

If the season ended today, April 22, these would be the teams to compete in the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament:

Eastern Conference

No. 8 Charlotte Hornets at No. 7 Miami Heat

No. 10 Washington Wizards at No. 9 Indiana Pacers

Western Conference

No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies at No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

No. 10 Golden State Warriors at No. 9 San Antonio Spurs