How Is the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament Different From 2020’s?

Published 05/14/2021, 8:04 AM EDT
Apr 28, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; The NBA Playoffs logo on the floor prior to game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports


As the regular season comes to its conclusion, the teams are all set to feature in the NBA play-in tournament. It has drawn criticism from a lot of players from the league because of its schedule. In the 2019-20 season, the top eight teams of each conference got into the postseason while the rest of the teams got eliminated, and the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies battled it out together in the 2019-20 play-in tournament.

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Now, the league has made certain changes regarding how the tournament will work this season.

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What were the guidelines for the 2019-20 NBA play-in tournament?

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Grizzlies in a tightly contested affair in last year’s play-in tournament, and it was the first of its kind.

The Western Conference teams ranked 8th and 9th played against each other last year. The Blazers, ranked 8th, only needed one victory to secure their place in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Memphis Grizzlies needed to go 2-0 up to secure a place in the playoffs. They needed to win the first game, which in turn would have forced a game three.

However, Lillard and Co. defeated the Grizzlies to win the game and entered the playoffs, and it was a unique way to end the season.

The new rules and regulations of the play-in tournament

This time around, the NBA has made a lot of changes to the play-in tournament.

Four teams from each conference will compete in the playoff series. The 7th and 8th ranked teams of each conference will go up against each other in the first match, with the winner getting the 7th seed in the playoffs while the loser will have to play in Game 3.

The 9th and 10th seeded teams will face off in the second game. The winner of this game will play in Game 3, while the loser will be eliminated. The winner of the Game 3 match-up will get the 8th seed in the playoffs.

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 20: Dallas Mavericks Guard Luka Doncic (77) looks on with owner Mark Cuban before a NBA game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 20, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

However, certain players and managers were not happy with the tournament. The Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, criticized the tournament in a recent interview and said:

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“The worst part of this approach is that it doubles the stress of the compressed schedule. Rather than playing for a playoff spot and being able to rest players as the standings become clearer, teams have to approach every game as a playoff game to either get into or stay in the top 6 since the consequences, as Luka said, are enormous. So players are playing more games and more minutes in fewer days. In hindsight, this approach was an enormous mistake.” 

There are questions of player fitness levels being affected which will come into the limelight, but the NBA play-in tournament is here to stay.

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Jacob Gijy

412 articles

Jacob Gijy is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. Gijy finished his Masters in Counselling Psychology and worked in a hospital for 2 years before his passion for sports compelled him to find his way to sports journalism. A fan of the great Tim Duncan, he is always ready to pick up a debate with anyone who does not offer the centre the respect he deserves.

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