How many rounds are in the NBA playoffs?

2023 NBA Finals - Game Five
2023 NBA Finals - Game Five / Justin Edmonds/GettyImages

With the second half of the NBA season tipping off on Thursday night, it’s a good time to get reacquainted with the ins and outs of the NBA playoffs. They’ll be here before you know it, as the regular season wraps up on April 14th, the Play-In Tournament goes from April 16th through April 19th, and then the playoffs get underway the following day, April 20th.

How many teams make the playoffs?

Ever since 1984, 16 teams have qualified for the NBA playoffs, 8 from each conference. Until 2020, the top 8 teams in the East and West would make the playoffs, and partake in a knockout-style tournament culminating with the NBA Finals.

In the 2020-21 season, the NBA added the Play-In tournament, which is still used today with the current format. Under these rules, the top 6 seeds by record in each conference make the playoffs, while the 7-10 seeds compete in the play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots in each conference.

So, a total of 20 teams qualify for the postseason. Four of those teams are eliminated within the next few days in the play-in tournament, and then 16 teams advance to the NBA playoffs.

What is the tournament format?

The tournament is set up with the 1 seed facing the 8 seed in each conference, the 2 seed facing the 7, the 3 facing the 6, and the 4 facing the 5. The bracket is lined up so that the winner of the 1/8 matchup faces the winner of the 4/5 matchup in the second round, while the winner of the 2/7 matchup faces the winner of the 3/6.

Then in the third round, the conference finals, the winner of the 1/8 vs 4/5 winner moves on to play the winner of the 2/7 vs 3/6 winner. The winner of that matchup wins their respective conference and moves on to the ultimate round, the fourth round, the NBA Finals to face the winner of the other conference.

So the NBA playoffs feature 16 teams who compete in a four-round knockout tournament that finally determines an NBA champion in June.