Charlotte Hornets pointed to NBA play-in; what would that mean to them in late May?

Rick Bonnell
·2 min read

If the Charlotte Hornets end up in the NBA’s new play-in format, what will that mean?

It’s certainly germane to explore: The Hornets are on a four-game losing streak heading into Sunday night’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers. That has dropped them from fourth in the Eastern Conference standings to eighth. The Hornets are trying to break a four-season streak without a playoff appearance.

Finishing seventh or eighth in either NBA conference no longer guarantees a team a best-of-seven playoff series. Instead, the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th teams will briefly play each other to complete the eight-team playoff draw in the East and West.

What Hornets fans need to know:

Why is finishing sixth or better now so important?

Because teams seventh through 10th in each conference now would play between one and three games after the regular season to decide their fate.

The NBA did a more limited play-in in the COVID-19 bubble that completed last season. While NBA owners unanimously approved this format on a one-season basis, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently called it “an enormous mistake” in hindsight in an interview with ESPN.

What is the format?

The teams with the seventh- and eighth-best winning percentages in each conference will play one game (at the No. 7 team’s home arena). The winner of that game becomes the seventh playoff seed.

The ninth- and 10th-place teams similarly play each other, with the winner of that game advancing to play the loser of the 7-8 game.

The winner of one game between the loser of the 7-8 game and the winner of the 9-10 game advances to be the 8th and final seed in the best-of-7 playoff draw.

Had the regular season concluded with Saturday’s games, the Hornets (eighth-best record in the East) would have played at the Miami Heat in the 7-8 game. The Indiana Pacers would have hosted either the Chicago Bulls or Washington Wizards (tied in record at 23-33) in the 9-10 game.

When do these play-in games happen?

The NBA has blocked out May 18 through May 21 for these play-in games in each conference, before best-of-7 playoff series begin. The 72-game regular season ends May 16.

What happens to teams in the play-in, but not the playoffs?

They are considered non-playoff teams and will get chances in the draft lottery. The NBA will line up the 14 teams not in the playoff draw in inverse order of regular-season record to establish draft-lottery chances. The draft lottery is scheduled for June 22, with the draft July 29.

Is this play-in now permanent?

Not necessarily. NBA owners approved this format for this season only to examine its merit.