NBA announces 2020-21 season format with post-season play-in tournament

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Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (15) wins tip-off against Toronto Raptors' Marc Gasol (33) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)

The NBA announced Tuesday the structure and format that will be used during the 2020-21 season, including a play-in tournament that will determine which teams make the seventh and eighth playoff seeds in each conference.

The season will begin on Dec. 22 and feature 72 games for each team.

Unlike normal years, the regular-season schedule will be released in two segments. The first of these will come around the start of training camp.

Part one of the schedule will be made available around the start of training camps, and will cover Dec. 22 to March 4.

The All-Star break is then slated to take place from March 5-10, between the first and second half of the regular season.

Part two of the schedule will be released toward the end of part one, though an exact date has not been specified at this time. It will run from March 11 to May 16 and include the remaining games from each team’s 72-game schedule, as well as any that were postponed and are able to reasonably be added.

At the conclusion of part two of the schedule, the play-in tournament will take place. It is expected to run from May 18 to 21. The tournament will include the teams with the seventh-highest through tenth-highest winning percentages in each conference.

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How will the play-in tournament work?

When the regular-season ends, the play-in tournament will begin.

In order to secure their post-season spot, teams with the seventh- and eighth-highest winning percentages will each have two opportunities to win one game.

Teams with the ninth- and tenth-highest winning percentages will each have to win two consecutive games to earn a spot in the post-season.

The team that holds the seventh-highest winning percentage in each conference will play host to the team with the eighth-highest winning percentage in its conference. To use last season’s final regular-season standings as an example: in the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets (seventh) and Orlando Magic (eighth) would face off. The winner of this play-in game during the 2020-21 season will be considered the conference’s seventh seed in the playoffs.

The team that has the ninth-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team that has the tenth-highest winning percentage in its conference. Using last season’s Eastern Conference regular-season standings as an example once more: the Charlotte Hornets (ninth) and Washington Wizards (10th) would play each other.

The loser of this game is eliminated from post-season contention. The winner goes on to play the loser of the matchup between the seventh- and eighth-highest winning percentages. Whoever wins that game, qualifies for the post-season as the No. 8 seed.

A hypothetical Eastern Conference play-in tournament using last season’s standings could then look like this when all is said and done:

• The Nets beat the Magic, so the Nets make the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.
• The Hornets beat the Wizards, so the Wizards are eliminated from playoffs contention.
• The Magic play the Hornets, and the winner becomes the No. 8 seed.

How will the season be structured?

Each team is currently slated to play three games against each intraconference opponent, for a total of 42 games per team. In these three-game sets, teams will always play at least one game at home and one game on the road, with the ratio randomly assigned by the league.

Within each team’s division, the NBA will randomly assign which two opponents will be played twice at home and which two opponents will be played twice on the road.

All five teams from within a division will play all five teams from one other intraconference division two times at home, and will play all five teams from the remaining intraconference division twice on the road.

Teams will play a total of two games against each interconference opponent, making for a total of 30 games per team. These pairings will feature one home game and one road game.

What does the full schedule look like right now?

Dec. 11-19, 2020: Pre-season games

Dec. 22, 2020 – March 4, 2021: First half of regular season

March 5-10, 2021: All-Star break

March 11 – May 16, 2021: Second Half of regular season

May 18-21, 2021: Play-in tournament

May 22 – July 22, 2021: 2021 NBA Playoffs

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