The NBA postseason is fast-paced, packed with action, and has the eyes of the world on it. Eight series kick off the first round, and we don’t blame anyone for not wanting to miss a minute. Use the bracket below to expand each series and find all the key information needed for NBA Playoff betting.
Regular Season Review
Eastern Conference — Review
As expected, the Nets trifecta of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden cruised to the 2nd seed in the East, one game behind the 76ers who clinched first place and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, after suffering an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat last season, Giannis and the Bucks came out with a point to prove. They made the Playoffs, hoping to silence critics who placed a target on their backs to finally reach the NBA Finals again.
The Philadelphia 76ers recruited one of the brightest minds in basketball in Daryl Morey to become their new General Manager, furthering their bid to reach the NBA Finals led by All-Star Joel Embiid.
One of the biggest stories of the East was the New York Knicks, who clinched a playoff berth (4th seed) for the first time since the 2012-13 season led by a resurgent Derrick Rose.
Russel Westbrook also continued to do ridiculous things as he finished the season averaging a triple-double, leading his Wizards through the Play-In tournament to clinch the 8th and final spot in the East.
Unsurprisingly, the Brooklyn Nets were favored by the bookies to win the East and make their much-anticipated debut in the NBA Finals since renaming from the New Jersey Nets in 2012.
Western Conference — Review
The season started with Lebron James’ championship-winning Lakers adding even more quality, making the defending champions even stronger. James Harden’s flame in Houston finally blew out as he made the trip East to join the already stacked Brooklyn Nets (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving), creating one of the most potent super teams of a generation.
Then there’s the Jokic-led Denver Nuggets, with the question on everybody’s lips; are they finally for real?
Fast forward 82 games and the Lakers just managed to sneak in via the Play-In tournament, taking the 7th seed in the West. This set up a First Round series against the Phoenix Suns, who surprised everyone on their way to a 51-21 season, good for the 2nd seed in the West.
The Rockets went from Championship contenders to basement dwellers. They finished last place in the league, securing a top pick in next season’s draft and simultaneously signaling the biggest rebuild project in recent memory.
Oh, and it turns out the Nuggets seem to be ‘for real’, grabbing the number one seed in the
West and therefore home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
Special mention has to go out to Steph Curry, who despite having a lack of any real support cast around him (Draymond Green aside) managed to carry the Warriors to the Play-In tournament, where they’d ultimately fall to the Grizzlies, ending their 2021 campaign. Curry is, however, one of three players to be nominated for the MVP (alongside Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic).
How do the NBA Playoffs Work?
As one of the most popular postseasons in world sport, the NBA Playoffs live up to the hype every single year. The eight best teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences are under the spotlight in knockout competition, creating memories that will live forever in sports history.
Below we run through the qualification process for 2021, including the all-new Play-In tournament, explain how each series will play out, and breakdown routes to the NBA Finals.
The NBA Playoffs is the only postseason across major North American Sports where no team has overcome a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series.
Seeding & Qualification
Traditionally, the eight teams with the best record from each conference will qualify for the playoffs. In 2021, qualification is a little different.
This year, the top six teams qualified as normal, while there was a new Play-In tournament to determine the 7th and 8th seeds from both conferences.
The tournament will see the 7th and 8th seed face off, with the winner earning the 7th seed. The 9th seed and 10th seed will play for the right to play the loser of the 7/8 seed game. Whoever wins that game will earn the final spot in the playoffs and complete the NBA playoff picture.
Qualifying for the playoffs is one thing, but ensuring they qualify as the highest seed possible will be at front of mind for all teams. The four highest seeds will get home-court advantage in the first round, and the 1st seed will get the same throughout all conference rounds.
The 1995 Houston Rockets are the lowest seed team to ever reach the NBA Finals and win the NBA Championship. They were seeded sixth in the Western Conference and entered the playoffs with a 47-35 record. On their way to victory, they defeated Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Orlando; all teams with 50 wins in the regular season.
Playoff Series Explained
In the first round of the playoffs, the 1st seed will face the 8th, 2nd plays the 7th, and the seeding works inwards from there. The highest-seeded winner will face the lowest-seeded winner in the next round.
Each series lasts no more than seven games, meaning four wins is enough to progress to the next round. Due to how the seeding structure gives home advantage, series follow a 2-2-1-1-1 home and away format. So, over a seven-game series, the higher seed will play games 1, 2, 5, and 7 at home.
One of the biggest upsets in NBA Playoffs history is when the 8th seed Golden State Warriors beat the 1st seed Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. Before the action began, sportsbooks have the Warriors a 5.9% chance of winning the series.
There is a two to four-day gap between each game in a series for the first two rounds, and then every other day for the conference semi-finals. Games will be played every two to three days in the NBA Finals.
The fewest number of games a Championship winning team will play is 16; four games in each round of the playoffs. However, they could play as many as 28, if each series is decided in seven games, 4-3.
No team has ever gone 16-0; the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors came close. They won their first 15 games and ended up going 16-1. A team has yet to play four game sevens on the way to an NBA Championship, either.
The Boston Celtics hold the record for most playoff games played to win a championship (26).
Following the same format as the other rounds in the NBA Playoffs, the Finals is the first series where Eastern Conference meets Western Conference.
Over a maximum of seven games, the NBA Champion 2021 will be crowned, and the winning players will get a coveted NBA Championship Ring.
Don’t forget that the NBA Finals will also be covered in the bracket above, so you can use this page throughout the entire postseason.
One of the most memorable game sevens in NBA Finals history was the 2016 game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. The Cavs pinched the game by 4 points with Lebron James and Kyrie Irving shooting for 27 and 26 points respectively. Cleveland’s 4-3 series win was the first time a team has ever won the NBA Championship from 3-1 down.