How The NBA Playoffs Work

If you didn’t already know, since the 2015-16 NBA season, there have been new rules in effect to organize the NBA playoffs. Diehard fans already know how the NBA playoffs work and how these new rules affect the entire arrangement of the games. For fans who only just started getting serious about NBA, however, this is the ultimate guide to explaining the arrangements behind the beauty that is the NBA playoffs.


If your NBA knowledge only goes so far as to watch ESPN online streaming to catch the games, then the first thing you need to understand about the games is seeding. Seeding is the selection and grouping of the 16 teams that battle it out in the playoffs. Thanks to the new rules, the top 8 teams in both the East and West conferences are selected based on merit and ranking using criteria such as the win-loss record. The team with the highest record gets the top seed and so on, for each conference. The purpose of seeding is to come up with a bracket which then determines who gets to face who in the matches.

NBA Playoffs

Match groupings

As mentioned, the bracket that results from seeding results in the match groupings. For the Conference Quarterfinals, there are four match-ups. The team with the top seed, 1, faces off with the team with the lowest seed in the conference. For instance, Seed 1 faces off with Seed 8 and Seed 2 with Seed 7 progressively. The qualifying teams are then grouped in a two-way match-up in the Conference Semifinals. The winner of the 1-8 match faces the winner of the 4-5 match while the winner of the 2-7 match faces the winner of the 3-6 match. Keep in mind that this happens to the other conference teams as well. The winners of the two-way match-up then face each other in the Conference finals. After that, the team that emerges victorious in the East conference gets to face off with the team from the West in the NBA finals. The games are played using the best-of-seven format, which means more playoff matches. However, critics will argue that the NBA should revert to the best-of-five format, which was better.

What happens when there’s a tie?

The NBA is a very competitive league,and it isn’t surprising for there two be two-way or even three-way ties during the seeding process. Unfortunately, only 8 teams can qualify for the playoffs. The new system has rules to select the qualifying team in the event of a tie, allowing for fairness in seeding and offering only the strongest teams a chance of glory in the NBA playoffs. There are 7 rules in place for a two-way tie and 6 rules to break a three-way tie.

The Bottomline

There are many moving parts behind the NBA playoffs,but the outcome is always amazing for the fans. The system is aggressively competitive but that only means that the fans get to watch the best of the best faceoff in tight matches. Nevertheless, understanding how the NBA playoffs work should give you a better understanding of why certain teams qualify when others don’t.