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How will the NBA's new in-season tournament plan work?

Spurs Trail Blazers Basketball
Posted at 6:40 PM, Jul 11, 2023

The NBA has a new trophy to play for, and some bonus cash for the teams that make the knockout round.

The unveiling Saturday of the long-awaited plans for the in-season tournament that'll start in November likely brought some questions, since it's a new concept and will make the schedule a bit unclear when the list of games for the 2023-24 slate gets released later this summer.

All 30 teams will take part. And every game will count in the stats and standings — except the championship game in Las Vegas on Dec. 9.

How does it all work?

First, let's start with the easy answer. Every game counts in the regular-season standings — except the championship game.

Teams will play four group-stage games. The group winners go to the quarterfinals, as do two wild-card teams. Quarterfinals, semifinals and the final are all single elimination.

How were the groups chosen?

Teams were assigned to a five-team group, with this past season’s order of regular season finish setting the pods from which they were selected. The teams that finished first, second and third in each conference were in one pod; the teams that finished in spots 4-6 were in another; spots 7-9 in another; spots 10-12 in another and spots 13-15 in the last.

The winner of each group goes to the quarterfinals, along with the best two second-place teams. Tiebreakers will likely come into play there. For tiebreakers within a group, head-to-head comes first. If there's a tie for the best second-place team in all groups, the tiebreakers are:

  • Point differential in the Group Stage;
  • Total points scored in the Group Stage;
  • Record from the 2022-23 regular season.
  • Random drawing.

So, what is at stake?

Well, the games all count, so the results will obviously factor toward who makes the “real” playoffs that start in April.

Other than that, teams will play for the NBA Cup — the new trophy — and bonus money for the quarterfinalists, semifinalists, runner-up and champion. Players could get as much as $500,000; for some guys in the league, that's a game check, but for many players, that's still a significant amount of money.

Does everyone involved still play 82 games?

This is a bit of a trick question. The answer is yes, sort of.

Teams will get an 80-game schedule (including the four group stage games) in the next few weeks. Teams that don't make the playoffs of the in-season tournament will play two games (filling the two missing games in their 82-game schedule) against other non-knockout-stage teams on Dec. 6 and 8.

For quarter finalists, that game becomes the 81st on their schedule. Quarterfinal losers will play the other quarterfinal loser from their conference, filling the 82nd spot on their schedule.

Semifinalists will have 82 game slots filled by the quarterfinals and semifinals. Semifinal losers won't play any extra game; they'll be at 82 already.

This leaves the two championship-game-bound teams. That Dec. 9 game in Las Vegas will end up as one of 83 games on their schedules — which is why it won't count on their records or for statistical purposes.

Regular season play resumes Dec. 11.

Will all teams still play 41 home games?

No. Some teams will play 40 games at home or on the road instead of the customary 41, and some teams could also find themselves at home or on the road 42 times.