Who will get into the NBA playoffs

NBA mode

Theoretically, the NBA season takes place from October to June, but unfortunately that has changed a bit thanks to Corona. The 2020/2021 season is planned from December to the end of July. It remains to be seen whether the plan can really be adhered to this year.


How many games does each team have in the regular season and against whom?

Each team typically plays 82 games per season. Exceptions are years in which there was a lock-out, i.e. in which players and team owners could not agree on a framework agreement on the distribution of the income (e.g. there were only 50 games in the 1998-99 season and in the 2011-12 season only 66 games). Or years in which the corona virus messes everything up. 72 games are to be played in the 2020/2021 season.

There are currently 30 teams in the league, i.e. 29 opponents for each team. However, not every team plays every other with the same number of times. This is mainly due to the fact that the USA is very big and you want to reduce the travel stress at least a little and still want to have a lot of games. For this purpose, the league was divided into 2 conferences with 3 divisions each.

This is how the games are divided up for the teams:
  • 4 games each against the 4 teams in their own division (16 games)
    • 2020/2021: only 3 games against your own division, i.e. 12 games
  • 2 games each against the 15 teams of the other conference (30 games)
  • 3 or 4 games each against the remaining 10 teams in their own conference (36 games = 4 * 6 + 3 * 4)
    • 2020/2021: 3 games against all other teams in their own conference, i.e. 30 games
Example opponents of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2017/2018 season:
  • 4 times against San Antonio, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans (same division), Sacramento, Golden State, Lakers, Minnesota, OKC, Denver
  • 3 times against Clippers, Utah, Phoenix, Portland
  • 2 times against Atlanta, Washington, Miami, Charlotte, Orlando, Cleveland, Indiana, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Toronto, New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia
How is the table determined?

There are several relevant tables in the NBA. The most important is the table within the conference, as it determines the playoff participation. By 2019, the 8 best teams in each conference made it to the playoffs. Playin games have been around since 2020, more on that later. The table within the conference results essentially from the quotient (games won) / (total games). In addition, the division winners automatically enter the playoffs, i.e. the division table also plays a role in the allocation of playoff places. This means that if a team has won the most wins within its division, it will end up in the playoffs even if 8 other teams in the conference had more wins (practically almost impossible). In earlier years, the division winners were certainly the top seeds (in some years 1-3, later at least 4th), so that they did not have to compete against each other in the first round.
Only wins and losses are counted, there can be no draws even during the regular season. Wins after overtime are not treated differently in the table than wins in regular time.
In the case of the same number of wins at the end of the season by 2 or more teams, the following rules will be applied in sequence (so-called tie-breakers):

  • Ratio of wins / losses in direct comparison
  • If the teams are all in the same division, then table within the division
  • Balance within your own conference
  • Record against playoff teams in their own conference
  • Record against playoff teams in the other conference
  • Point difference in all games

There is also a cross-conference placement. This is only relevant for determining the home right in the finals, as well as for determining the order in the drafts.

How does the Playin tournament work

At the first Playin Tournament, Seeds 8 and 9 played the last playoff place among themselves. At that time, the background was that some teams had more games than others in the 2019/2020 Corona season and had not played against all bad teams. This way, potentially disadvantaged teams should get another chance.

Apparently that was so well received that the NBA decided to keep the Playin Tournament and expand it to places 7-10. The mode is as follows:

  • The 7th and 8th of each conference play the 7th seed among themselves. A game is played in which the 7th has home rights. The winner gets the 7th seed and the loser has to match the winner of 9/10. fight for the 8th seed
  • The 9th and 10th of each conference play for the right to get a chance at the 8th seed against the loser from the duel 7th against 8th. The mode is the same again: a game is played, the 9th has home rights, the winner goes one round and the loser will definitely not play any playoffs
  • In the last game, the loser of 7th against 8th (home right) can play against the winner of 9th against 10th. The winner gets the 8th seed.
  • The 7th and 8th only have to win one game to reach the playoffs, the 9th and 10th have to win 2 games
  • It is possible that after the playin tournament the 8th will get the 7th seed and the 7th the 8th seed
Who is playing against whom in the playoffs?

The playoffs initially differ in Eastern and Western Conference playoffs. The winners of each conference then compete in the finals.
Play in the first round:
1st against 8th seed (i.e. winner of the last game of the Playin Tournament)
2nd against 7th seed (i.e. winner of the duel 7th against 8th in the Playin Tournament)
3rd against 6th
4th against 5.

In the second round:
Winner 1st / 8th against winner 4./5.
Winner 2./7. against winners 3rd / 6th

The team with the better placement has a home advantage in both the playoffs and the finals.

All playoff rounds are played in the best of 7 mode, i.e. the team that wins 4 games first will advance. The pairings are played in 2-2-1-1-1 mode, i.e. the team with the better record plays the first 2 games at home, then twice away, etc. -3-2 mode to minimize travel for players.

Theoretically, a team can play a maximum of 82 (regular season) + 2 (playins) + 4 * 7 (playoffs) = 112 games in one season (2020/2021: a maximum of 102 games). This number is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, as the league would have less income with fewer games, but the risk of injury to the players would increase with further games. As a small compromise, the NBA season will start 2 weeks earlier than before from 2017/18, so that the teams will have fewer games on consecutive days.