How To Watch the 2021 NBA Playoffs

As the pandemic slows nationwide, NBA arenas are easing restrictions and allowing more fans in the stands—just in time for the playoffs! 

But for those looking to follow the Road to the NBA Championship in the comfort of their own homes, there are many options to watch—whether viewing through your TV provider or streaming. 

An added bonus, there will be more postseason games to watch. The NBA is hosting a “play-in” tournament to determine the final two playoff slots in both conferences. This is to help compensate for the regular season being 72 games, rather than a typical 82-game slate, because of the pandemic. 

When is the NBA play-in tournament and how will it work?

The tournament tips off May 18 and runs through May 21 and will feature the 7th-to-10th-place finishers in each conference. The 7th-place team will host a game against the 8th-place team with the winner scoring the No. 7 conference playoff seed. The 9th-place team will host a game against the 10th-place team. The loser is out, and the winner plays the loser of the previous game. This winner secures the No. 8 seed and final playoff spot.

While last year’s play-in games were hosted on the neutral court of the NBA Bubble at Walt Disney World, this season, all games will be played in team arenas. Play-in losers will get the consolation of being in the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery for top picks.

Some NBA stars aren’t thrilled with the new play-in format, including LeBron James, whose defending champion Los Angeles Lakers were 7th in the Western Conference heading into the regular season’s final week, when they faced the potential of being knocked out in the play-in, which would cost them the chance to defend their title.

When are the NBA Playoffs?

They begin May 22 and, barring delays, are expected to be complete no later than July 22.

How can I watch the play-in and playoffs?

ABC, ESPN and TNT will be airing the games live, so if you have these channels through your TV provider, you’re all set. You can also stream the games via YouTube TV, fuboTV, Sling TV and Hulu + Live TV. 

Besides the play-in, how is this season’s playoffs different from the past? 

Due to the pandemic, the NBA is limiting the number of tickets available per game based on seating capacities set forth by local governments. But unlike last season, when all games were played in the NBA Bubble, at least fans will be able to attend games.

For example, the Atlanta Hawks will host 7,625 fans—or 45% capacity of State Farm Arena. The team opened the year with no fans allowed to attend games, and in March slowly increased its capacity to 3,000.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will let Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden set aside at least 50% of its seating for fully vaccinated fans just in time for the playoffs. Both arenas will be allowed to fill all seats with fully vaccinated fans but plan to set aside some seating for people not vaccinated, who will have to wear masks and follow social distancing rules.

Both arenas had previously been operating at 10% capacity amid Covid restrictions. 

The NBA will continue to enforce health and safety protocols set forth by each state, including requiring fans to wear masks except when eating and drinking.

Players, coaches and on-field personnel will undergo regular, mandatory Covid testing, and those who test positive will be required to isolate for 10 days or more.

What are some key postseason storylines to monitor?

Can last year’s NBA finalists make a run? 

Both the Lakers and runner-up Miami Heat will have low seeds heading into the postseason. In fact, the Lakers were trying to avoid the play-in tournament heading into their final few regular season contests. Both are seasoned teams and can certainly pull off an upset or two with the talent they have, but it would take quite a run to get back to the Finals. In the Lakers’ case, both LeBron James and fellow superstar Anthony Davis head into the postseason dealing with injuries. 

The return of the New York Knicks to the playoffs 

After suffering through seven straight seasons as a League laughing stock, the Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since Carmelo Anthony led them to the second round in 2013. Since then, the most excitement fans of the team have had is trying to determine how many ping pong balls the Knicks secured in the annual draft lottery for being bad. But led by superstar Julius Randle, reinvigorated former MVP Derrick Rose and a suffocating defense pushed by new coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks are the surprise of the League. 

Can the Brooklyn Nets “Big Three” stay healthy? 

Nearly a decade after moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the Nets are among the favorites to win it all and bring the borough its first major league championship in any sport since the Dodgers captured the 1955 World Series. 

Led by James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, this squad is filled with some all-time greats and their talent is matched by no one. However, between injuries and Irving taking days off for personal reasons, these three stars have hardly played together this season. While this should change in the playoffs, will their skills alone be enough to compensate? 

Program availability may have changed and is subject to change.