The NBA Playoffs is a 16-team tournament that features a best-of-seven series in each of the rounds. The first team to win four games advances to the next round, until there is one team left. The NBA Playoffs are typically played throughout the summer, as the regular season concludes in April. 

There is also the NBA Play-In Tournament, which was not considered part of the official NBA Playoffs until 2023. This is a mini-tournament played between the seven through 10 seeds in each conference. Two teams advance per conference to round out the final 16 clubs in the NBA Playoffs. 

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How do the NBA Playoffs work? 

Just like any other bracket, the NBA Playoffs work by first seeding teams between one and eight for each conference. The No. 1 seed plays the No. 8 seed in the first round, the No. 2 seed plays the No. 7 seed, and so on. With 16 total teams, there are only four rounds in the NBA Playoffs, although the duration lasts much longer than that.

The reason is that each round is a best-of-seven series, so if a series goes to seven games then it can stretch longer than a series that ends in four games. Teams want to wrap their series up as quickly as possible and rest before the next round starts. 

The Play-In Tournament

As mentioned before, this was not part of the official NBA Playoffs until 2023. It is the first action we get after the regular season concludes. The No. 7 and No. 8 seeds face off in a double-chance elimination game. That means the loser of the game is not eliminated from the Play-In Tournament.

Rather, the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game plays the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game. The winner of No. 7 vs. No. 8 automatically advances into the NBA Playoffs as the No. 7 seed. The winner of No. 9 vs. No. 10 faces the loser of No. 7 vs. No. 8 for the final NBA Playoffs No. 8 seed. 

First Round

The First Round of the NBA Playoffs sees the No. 1 vs. No. 8 seeds, the No. 2 vs. No. 7 seeds, the No. 3 vs. No. 6 seeds, and the No. 4 vs. No. 5 seeds. The higher-ranked team earns home-court advantage throughout the series. The first two games are played at the higher seed, while the next two games are played at the lower seed. Games five through seven then alternate, with the higher seed hosting games five and seven if necessary. The lower seed team would host game six. 

Home-court advantage is important in any sport, including basketball. It helps to play in front of fans that support you, along with some of the cities having special conditions. Denver is high altitude, so the home-court advantage there is the conditioning of Nuggets players. The hoop’s backdrop also changes between venues, something players must adjust to when shooting the ball.

Conference Semifinals

This round is also known as the NBA Playoffs Quarterfinals in which there are only eight teams remaining. The criteria is the same as the previous round, where each series is best-of-seven and the higher seed gets home-court advantage. 

Teams are not reseeded once the playoffs begin, therefore all seeds are considered ‘locked’ once the tournament begins. If No. 1 beats No. 8, then the No. 1 seed will have home-court advantage in the Conference Semifinals regardless of who wins the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series. If No. 8 beats No. 1, then the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series will host the No. 8 team regardless of who comes out. 

Conference Finals

The NBA Conference Finals are also known as the NBA Playoffs Semifinals, in which the final four teams remain. The winner of this series is crowned the champion of their respective conference, and like all the other rounds is a best-of-seven series. 

NBA Finals

The NBA Finals is the championship round for professional basketball, featuring the Western and Eastern Conference champions. The winner of this series is crowned the NBA Champion and winner of the Larry O’Brien Championship. This is also played in a best-of-seven series. 

How Many Teams Make the NBA Playoffs?

16 total teams make the NBA Playoffs, while 20 teams make the NBA Playoffs which includes the NBA Play-In Tournament. After the No. 7 through No. 10 seeds play in the NBA Play-In Tournament, eight teams are seeded per conference.

How does the NBA Playoff Bracket Seeding Work?

The division standings don’t really matter when it comes to seeding the NBA Playoffs, as conferences are seeded by overall record and not division winners. 

If the Dallas Mavericks finish in second place in their division but have a better record than the other division-leading Utah Jazz, then the Mavericks would get the higher seed. Teams are seeded No. 1 through No. 10 based on best records, with seeds No. 7 through No. 10 going into the NBA Play-In Tournament. 

General FAQs

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