Play-in tournament for final playoff seeds will return for 2020-21 NBA season

The NBA’s upcoming season will feature changes, including to its length, start time and format.

The league’s 72-game schedule, a decrease from the traditional 82 games, will begin Dec. 22 following preseason games from Dec. 11-19. An All-Star break is set for March 5-10. The NBA playoffs are set to start May 22 and go through July 22 at latest.

To finalize the seventh and eighth playoff spots for each conference, the NBA will host a play-in tournament May 18-21 that includes teams with the seventh-highest through 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference.

The NBA plans to release the first half of its regular-season schedule (games from Dec. 22-March 4) around the start of training camp. The league said it will release the second half of the schedule (games between March 11- May 16), at some point during the first half of the season.

Amid that uncertainty, the NBA established that each team will play each team in their own conference three times and each team out of its conference twice. The intraconference games will feature either two home games and one road game or one home game and two road games – something the league office said it has “randomly assigned.” The interconference games will feature one home game and one road game. All five teams in each division will play all five teams from another intraconference division twice at home, and all five teams from the remaining intraconference division twice on the road.

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As for the play-in tournament, the winner of a game between the teams with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages will land the No. 7 seed in the conference. The loser of that game will host the winner of a game between the teams featuring the ninth-highest and 10th-highest winning percentage. The winner of that game will earn the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.

The NBA presented this format during the season restart, the Portland Trail Blazers beating out the Memphis Grizzlies for the final postseason seed in the West. Only the Western Conference used the tournament in the bubble since the final two seeds had less than a five-game lead following the eight-game restart.

The NBA has not established definitively which teams will host games with fans this season. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves have said they do not plan to open games with fans to start the season. The Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder have tentative hopes to host games with limited fans, which would include rapid testing for COVID-19 as well as enforcing social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitary rules.

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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