The NBA Playoff race came down to the final night of the regular season, but after one of the most unpredictable finishes in NBA history, the field is finally set. Well, almost.
From Tuesday, May 18 to Friday, May 21, the NBA will hold its first-ever Play-In Tournament. The six-game, eight-team tournament gets underway Tuesday at 6:30pm ET on TNT, when (9) Indiana hosts (10) Charlotte. The loser of that game will be eliminated from the Eastern Conference Playoff picture, while the winner will face the loser of (8) Washington at (7) Boston (the winner of the Wizards-Celtics game will move on to play (2) Brooklyn as the 7-seed). That single-elimination game will take place on Thursday, May 20 at 6pm ET for the right to play (1) Philadelphia as the 8-seed.
If this still sounds confusing, think of it this way: 7 and 8-seeds have to win once in two games to advance to the playoffs, while 9 and 10-seeds have to win both games.
In the Western Conference, the Play-In Tournament starts Wednesday, May 19 at 7:30pm ET on ESPN, when (10) San Antonio travels to (9) Memphis to take on the Grizzlies. That’s followed by what should be a sensational battle between Stephen Curry and the (8) Golden State Warriors and LeBron James and the (7) Los Angeles Lakers. The loser of that game will have one more chance to get it done when they play the winner of the Spurs-Grizzlies game Friday night. Wednesday's winner will face the (2) Phoenix Suns in the first round, while Friday night's winner will take on the (1) Utah Jazz.
To help us make sense of what to expect, we spoke with ESPN NBA Analyst and Reporter Doris Burke. For Doris' thoughts on the Western Conference matchups, watch the video above, and what she'd say to Play-In haters, and much more, check out our interview below, along with the full schedule for the Play-In Tournament. To watch the Play-In Tournament and NBA Playoffs on Sling, sign up for Sling Orange + Blue using the link at the bottom of this page.
NBA Play-In Tournament/ Playoffs
Tue. May 18-Sun. May 23
|Tuesday, May 18|
|6:30 PM||Charlotte Hornets 117, Indiana Pacers 144||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
|9:00 PM||Washington Wizards 100, Boston Celtics 118||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
|Wednesday, May 19|
|7:30 PM||San Antonio Spurs 96, Memphis Grizzlies 100||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|10:00 PM||Golden State Warriors 100, Los Angeles Lakers 103,||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|Thursday, May 20|
|8:00 PM||Indiana Pacers at Washington Wizards||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
|Friday, May 21|
|9:00 PM||Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|Saturday, May 22|
|2:00 PM||Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|4:30 PM||Dallas Mavericks at LA Clippers||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|8:00 PM||Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets||ESPN3||Sling Orange|
|10:30 PM||Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|Sunday, May 23|
|1:00 PM||TBD at Philadelphia 76ers||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
|3:30 PM||Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns||ESPN3||Sling Orange|
|7:00 PM||Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
|9:30 PM||TBD at Utah Jazz||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
Doris Burke Interview
Sling: Give us a preview of the Western Conference Play-In games
Doris Burke: So let’s start with the Grizzlies and the Spurs, because you have the electric Ja Morant; the physically tough, tenacious Dylan Brooks; and for the Memphis Grizzlies, the way they win is they get into the paint. They lead the league in second-chance point opportunities, they’re north of 50 points per game.
On the other side, you’ve got the Spurs, who are one of the lowest turnover teams in the league. If you’ve ever heard [Spurs Coach] Gregg Popovich do a sideline interview and his team has turned the ball over, it’s a nightmare. They are led by Demar Derozan who’s averaging a career-high 6.5 assists, and Dejounte Murray. This is going to be a fascinating game. The Spurs are not playing especially well late, so don’t be surprised if the Grizz come out of this matchup.
And then the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors. Can you believe we get Stephen Curry and LeBron James in a play-in matchup? And here’s what’s different about these two teams: One team has caught their rhythm, they’re playing their best basketball at the right time. Steph Curry has been brilliant all season. Draymond Green is the perfect compliment to Steph Curry, their connection is innate, it’s beautiful to watch. But the key for them is, the guys around them: Andrew Wiggins, Juan Toscano-Anderson. They have all figured out their roles and combinations.
So you have one team that’s caught their rhythm, and the Lakers have got to find their rhythm in the midst of the play-in tournament. But you’re still talking about maybe the best two-man combination in the game: the greatest player of his generation, LeBron James, [who] looks recovered from that ankle, and Anthony Davis is starting to round into form. It would scare me to death to have to play Stephen Curry in a one-game, winner-take-all situation, particularly the way he’s playing. I’m not predicting a winner, I just can’t wait to watch.
What would you say to those who dislike the Play-In Tournament, including the players who voiced their opposition to it?
So the single most-important factor for any professional sports league in the country—or in the world for that matter, whether you’re talking about the brilliant soccer teams that play in Europe, or the NFL, or NBA basketball—the fact of the matter is fans are what drives revenue, interest, passion, all of those things. And what the Play-In Tournament has afforded you is an importance to every game. Virtually everything mattered on the final day of the regular season. I believe there were only two seeds set in the 15 games played on the final day of the regular season.
So I understand the objections of the players who say, “We play a 72-game, or in normal circumstances, an 82-game season to dictate the playoffs,” and it’s frustrating that you might lose a game and be out. The fact of the matter is, don’t put yourself in a position to be in the Play-In if you’re that opposed to it. Be consistent enough over the course of the regular season to get into the top six [teams]. Because the fact of the matter is, the Play-In Tournament serves the most important people to any professional sports leagues, and that’s the fans.
Should the Play-In Tournament become permanent?
I think the Play-In Tournament should become permanent, because what we see is two things: Drama, excitement, passion, importance of every game throughout the course of the regular season. And the second thing you saw is far less teams interested as the season wound-down trying to position themselves in the lottery. Because you get an opportunity—even if you have a young team and just sort of on the fringes of the Play-In rotation, you’re still thinking, ‘Those games are valuable to my organization.’ I believe it should become permanent, no question.
Watch the NBA Play-In Tournament starting tomorrow night at 6:30pm ET on TNT!