How Many Teams Make the NBA Playoffs 2021?

Published 05/10/2021, 12:23 PM EDT
Jan 18, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) defends Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the second quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Long-time NBA fans know that if there is anything constant in the league, it is change. From players taking more threes to teams transitioning to an offense first approach, the league has had some major changes over the years.


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But one of the major critiques over the years has been the lack of competitiveness in the regular season. In fact, there is a stark difference between the teams that make it to the playoffs and the ones that do not.

Apr 19, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook (4) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski (17) and guard Svi Mykhailiuk (14) during the second quarter at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

With teams not making any moves for a playoff push, the playoff landscape rarely saw a change. In fact, we saw some teams purposely tanking to have a higher probability of getting a top pick in the draft.


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NBA revamps its playoff format with the introduction of play-in tournament

To revamp the regular season and their traditional playoff system, the league introduced the play-in tournament. While the playoffs will continue to have eight teams from each conference, there is a tweak in the teams that qualify for the same.

For the upcoming playoffs, six top teams from both conferences will directly qualify for the playoffs. But from the seventh to the tenth seed, the new play-in system comes into play.

The mini-tournament is set to have a total of three games. In the first game, the seventh and eighth seed face off against each other, and the winner solidifies themselves as the seventh seed.

Apr 22, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives for the basket against Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) in the first quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The ninth seed and the tenth seed face off against each other in the second game. While the team who lost will get eliminated, the winner has to play an extra game against the loser of the first game.

The winner of the last game is declared as the eighth seed of their respective conference. With the new play-in tournament, more and more teams have a chance at the playoffs, indulging more markets.

This season, we have already seen some unexpected teams in the top 10, and these teams will now have a legitimate chance to have a post-season run.

Criticisms of the play-in tournament

While the play in tournament does make the regular season much more competitive, it has drawn criticism from some of the biggest stars in the league.

LeBron James and Luka Doncic have openly criticized the mini tournament. This is especially because of the stark difference in quality the 7th seeded teams have from the 8th,9th and 10th seed.


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Apr 22, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers injured forward LeBron James (23) speaks with teammates during the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

These teams have records which are much, much better than an average .500 team and are only a win or two away from moving up in the standings.

But because of the new mini tournament, they are at a risk of not making it to the playoffs. Given that the play in tournament only has one-off games, this makes it much more difficult to predict who might win.


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Given that these teams have much better records than the other three seeds, the play-in tournament could narrow itself down to the three teams, the 8th, 9th and 10th seed, who have comparable records. Do you think the NBA should modify the play-in tournament?


Aditya Mohapatra

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Aditya Mohapatra is a sports enthusiast who primarily covers the NBA for EssentiallySports. Having graduated in Mass Communication, he has prior experience in writing for ABP News, and has been writing for EssentiallySports since November 2020. This die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan feels that LeBron James is the best thing to have ever happened to the NBA, and will hold a healthy debate with anyone suggesting otherwise.