How Do The NBA Playoffs Work In 2024?

Basketball is one of the world’s most popular team sports that even those who do not follow the sport are familiar with during the playoffs season.

However, have you asked yourself how the NBA playoffs operate for those who do not follow the game but want to understand it? You have come to the right place.

Read more below about the NBA playoffs, how the game works, and the different teams.

How Many Teams Are In The NBA?

There are 30 NBA teams divided into 15 teams placed in two conferences, the East and West.

In addition, the teams in each conference are further divided into three divisions.

The divisions make classifying the team’s respective conference, playoff seeds, and tiebreakers easier to manage during the regular season.

Let me break down the teams and list down where they belong in their respective conferences.

The Eastern Conference

These are the teams that make up the Eastern conference and their corresponding divisions.

Atlantic Division

  • Boston Celtics
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • New York Knicks
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors

Central Division

  • Chicago Bulls
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Detroit Pistons
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Miami Heat
  • Orlando Magic
  • Washington Wizards

The Western Conference

These are the teams that make up the Western conference and their respective divisions.

Southwest Divisions

  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • San Antonio Spurs

Pacific Division

  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Sacramento Kings

Northwest Division

  • Denver Nuggets
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • Utah Jazz

How Do Teams Qualify For The Playoffs?

Teams that want to qualify for the NBA playoffs and earn a playoff spot need to have a higher winning percentage over their peers.

The team with the best record and win percentage earns the first seed spot in their respective conference.

Other teams that cannot qualify as the first seed should aim to have an outstanding regular-season record to qualify.

The teams in the playoffs usually have the best records in the league.

What if Two Teams Have the Same Record or Win Percentage?

The NBA has guidelines for determining which team earns the higher seed than the other.

The following are the guidelines the organization follows in determining the higher seeded team:

  • Higher Win Percentage
  • Higher Win Percentage vs. Tied Teams
  • 1st Place in Their Division
  • If The Teams in the Same Division have a Higher Win Percentage in Division Games
  • Higher Win Percentage in Conference
  • Higher Win Percentage Against Teams Eligible for the Playoffs in Their Own Conference
  • Better Regular-Season Point Differential

The 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament

During the 2020-21 season, the NBA introduced a NEW format. Before the NBA playoffs start, the NBA will host a play-in tournament consisting of four teams.

In each conference, the four teams are the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th seeded teams.

The play-in tournament is a new format wherein teams in the 9th and 10th seed in their respective conference have an opportunity to qualify for the postseason of the NBA season.

Before the introduction of the play-in tournament format, once the regular season finishes and the seeded teams are set, any team seeded below eight are immediately disqualified from participating in the NBA playoffs.

The play-in tournament provides more opportunities for the 9th and 10th seeded teams to progress to the next round of the tournament.

How Is the 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament Structured?

There are two games for each conference, which creates the play-in tournament.

The first game of the Play-In Tournament consists of the 8th and 7th seeded teams of each conference, and they play one game called the Play-In Game (the Seven-Eight Game).

The winner of that game earns the 7th seed.

Next in the play-in tournament agenda are the 9th and 10th seeded teams participating in one game, the second game of the play-in tournament called the “Nine-Ten game”.

The winner of the “Nine-Ten game” will face the loser of the “Seven-Eight game”, and the winner of the final game of the play-in tournament will earn the Number 8 seed.

The Winners Of The Play-in Tournament

The winners of the play-in need to be determined before the playoffs start. After the two games, the winners earn a playoff spot. The playoffs will then commence.

The tournament provides chances for lower-seeded teams to qualify, providing more entertainment to fans like us.

The Number Of Games Played In The NBA Playoffs

When talking exclusively about the number of games in a match with two teams, the maximum game that can be played is seven games.

It is due to the best of seven format the NBA uses that makes these playoffs last from four games to as many as seven matches.

When counting the entire tournament, there could be 60 games minimum, while there also could be 105 games maximum.

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The NBA Playoff Format

Teams from each conference will battle each other out until the best team from each conference meets up in the finals.

All rounds of the playoffs are in a best-of-seven format, meaning in a series with two teams facing each other, the first team to win four games is the winner and moves on to the next round.

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The losing team of each match is eliminated from the tournament.

Let’s discuss the playoff format, shall we?

The First Round

The first round is pretty self-explanatory; it is the first round of the playoffs.

The round is formatted as follows in the NBA: 1st seed vs. 8th seed, 2nd seed vs. 7th seed, 3rd seed vs. 6th seed, and 4th seed vs. 5th seed.

For example, the first-seeded team in the Eastern conference plays the eighth-seeded team in that same conference. The same format applies in the Western Conference as well.

In each conference, out of the eight teams in the first round, only four will continue to the journey of winning the championship.

The Conference Semifinals

The conference semifinals, also known as the second round of the NBA playoffs, is the next round of the playoffs after the first round.

Of the four teams in this round, only two will advance to compete for a spot in the finals.

The Conference Finals

The Conference Finals is the round that crowns the conference champions.

This round is where people see who the best Eastern and Western teams are before going head and toes for the NBA Larry O’Brien Championship.

The NBA Finals

The NBA Finals is the most important series in the entire NBA season.

When a team wins the NBA finals, they are the crowned victor of the NBA and win the NBA championship; the best team.

Additional Information To Remember

Here is random information you may want to know if you want to fully understand the game of basketball, specifically the NBA!

Home Court Advantage in the NBA Playoffs

The team with the home-court advantage are the ones that have two consecutive games in their home court, hence the name.

Home-court advantage is sometimes referred to as the “2-2-1-1-1” due to the tournament’s format.

The Latest NBA Champions

The most recent NBA Champions are the Milwaukee Bucks, led by their star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns, led by Chris Paul, in a 4-2 victory over the team.


Now you know how the NBA playoffs work and why it’s one of the most popular and exciting sporting events globally.

With many organizations and players competing against one another to win the NBA championship, it is a guaranteed entertaining and engaging sport to follow.

From legends like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Steph Curry, you now understand how they could win their respective championships.

Thank you for reading, and enjoy the upcoming playoffs with full knowledge of the complexities of the NBA tournament.