Sports

Everything You Need to Know About the New NBA Playoffs' Play-In Tournament

Jimmy Butler and the Heat hope to avoid the new Play-In tournament.
Jimmy Butler and the Heat hope to avoid the new Play-In tournament. Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty
After Miami's 130-124 win on Sunday over the Boston Celtics, the Heat enters the final week of its abbreviated 72-game season 37-31, good for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Miami will face off against the seventh-seed Celtics — who they now lead by two games in the standings — again on Tuesday night, in a game that has massive implications on which team will take part in the NBA Play-In Tournament that follows the completed regular-season schedule.

Yes, for those of you who have only been half paying attention to this awkwardly produced NBA season, there is a postseason before a postseason. May Madness, if you will. This is not your normal NBA season.

Teams that finish seventh and eighth in the standings will not be automatically punching a ticket to the playoffs this year. Instead, they'll only clinch an invite behind an initial red-velvet rope that leads to a space between themselves and the actual NBA playoffs that are blocked off by bodyguards and another rope.

Yup. It's weird. And if you're not a fan of the idea, you're not alone. LeBron James hates it so much he said whoever thought of the idea should be fired.


Below, you'll find a breakdown of how the seedings and games will play out once the teams in the Play-In tournament are set:
For those of you just getting around to focusing on all of this and how it will play out, let's break it down. For starters, what used to be the eighth seed is basically now the sixth seed. Placing anywhere below the sixth seed means you've automatically volunteered to be a guinea pig in the test experiment that is the NBA Playoffs Play-In tournament.

It's the playoffs before the playoffs, that isn't really the playoffs. It's a pre-playoffs.

Pause for clarity here: The sixth seed, where the Heat currently resides, skips the Play-In nonsense. You want the sixth seed. OK, carrying on.

You may be asking yourself exactly what the winners of the Play-In tournament receive. The answer? The NBA playoffs. The teams that come out of the Play-In will get the seventh- and eighth-seeded positions in each conference. After the Play-In Tournament is complete, the real NBA Playoffs start, with the traditional 16-team, best-of-seven series structure.

Got it? Good. Because it's new to everyone and weird to most. Moving forward, Miami has the fourth-most difficult schedule in the NBA, while Boston has the 11th-easiest. Miami has already guaranteed itself a spot in the Play-In tournament at worst, but if the team plays well enough this coming week, the Heat can finish as high as the fourth seed.

It's a lot. Hopefully as we head into the final week of the season, this cleared things up a bit. If not, no worries — you'll be hearing a lot more about the NBA Play-In tournament this week. 
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.
Contact: Ryan Yousefi