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Why is there an NBA play-in tournament this season?

We go over why the NBA decided to implement the play-in tournament this season and how the format has changed.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver waits to speak at the Los Angeles Lakers championship ring ceremony before the season opening game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 22, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.  Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The NBA play-in tournament is finally here.

The NBA expanded on the play-in concept after a thrilling game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies in the Orlando bubble. Because the regular season had been cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the bubble schedule didn’t allow for completion of a full 82-game schedule, the NBA created the play-in concept to give a team outside the top eight a chance at making the playoffs. The Blazers only had to beat Memphis once, but the Grizzlies would’ve had to win twice to make the postseason field.

Because the NBA shortened the 2020-21 season to 72 games, the league decided to build on the play-in concept from the bubble and add more teams. The No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in each conference will play with the winner securing the No. 7 seed. The loser of this matchup will meet the winner of the game between No. 9 and No. 10 seed to determine the final playoff spot.

This play-in expansion has received mixed reviews. Fans and broadcasters will surely appreciate the additional games, especially given the marquee matchups. Players, coaches and owners have been less forgiving. LeBron James pushed for whoever created the concept to be fired while Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called the tournament ‘an enormous mistake’ when it appeared his team would be in the bracket.

Despite the pushback, the 2020-21 field is officially set and features some of the game’s biggest stars. The Lakers, Warriors, Grizzlies and Spurs will feature in the West bracket while the Celtics, Wizards, Pacers and Hornets match up in the East bracket. While James’ showdown with Stephen Curry and Golden State will be the marquee event of the bracket, there are other things to look out for. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook will look to keep the momentum going for the red-hot Wizards, who went 17-6 to finish the season and grab the No. 8 seed. Can Ja Morant or LaMelo Ball carry his respective team to the playoffs? Here’s the full schedule for the play-in games.

Tuesday, May 18

Game 1: Charlotte Hornets vs. Indiana Pacers (-1.5) - 6:40 PM ET

Game 2: Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics (-2) - 9:10 PM ET

Wednesday, May 19

Game 3: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies (-4) - 7:40 ET

Game 4: Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers (-5) - 10:10 ET

Thursday, May 20

Winner of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2 - 8:00 PM ET

Friday, May 21

Winner of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4 - TBA