The NBA implemented the play-in game to create excitement, make more games meaningful and curtail tanking.
With just four days left in the regular season, the intrigue surrounding the play-in format has drawn more attention than the race for the No. 1 seed, buoyed by the prospect of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers needing to win a play-in game to make the playoffs.
In short, the seventh- and eighth-place teams in both conferences aren’t guaranteed a playoff spot. The league has given the ninth- and 10th-place teams a shot at reaching the playoffs.
Here’s how it works and who might end up in the play-in game format.
A look at the NBA standings and playoff picture with four days remaining in the regular season: pic.twitter.com/NVkPOEsgNs
After the regular season concludes, the seventh- and eighth-place teams play each other and the winner earns the No. 7 seed. The loser of that game plays the winner of the 9-10 game. The winner of that game becomes the No. 8 seed. To give the teams that had a better record during the regular season an advantage, teams 7-8 need to win just one play-in game to advance and teams 9-10 need to win two games.
The play-in games are May 18-21 with the 16-team, best-of-7 playoffs beginning May 22.
In the East, the picture is a bit more clear than in the West, though tiebreakers convolute the scenarios.
Boston, Charlotte, Indiana and Washington are in spots 7-10. The top six seeds in the East are set, so none of these teams can finish above No. 7.
The Celtics do not have seventh place secured. They are a 1½ game ahead of the Hornets and Pacers. All the Celtics need to do is win one of their final two games, and because they own the tiebreaker against Charlotte and Indiana, they will finish in the seven place in the East. That won't be easy. Boston is banged up, without Jaylen Brown for the rest of the season and have lost nine of its past 13 games.
Celtics’ remaining games: at Minnesota, at New York Knicks
Though Charlotte and Indiana have identical records and each have three games remaining, the Hornets are in ninth place because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Charlotte does not have it easy the rest of the way, playing three teams who are jostling for playoff or play-in positions. Indiana doesn't have a cakewalk either.
Hornets’ remaining games: vs. Los Angeles Clippers, at New York Knicks, at Washington Wizards
Pacers’ remaining games: vs. Milwaukee, vs. Los Angeles Lakers, at Toronto
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