5 Essential Tips to Bet the NBA Play-In Tournament (+ Live Odds)

Written By Martin Derbyshire on May 12, 2021 - Last Updated on June 8, 2022

The NBA Playoffs will look a little different this year.

While the traditional 16-team NBA Playoffs will still follow, there will be a new play-in tournament at the end of the regular season featuring the No. 7 through No. 10-ranked teams in each conference. The play-in games will decide which teams will ultimately be the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds for the playoffs.

The prize for winning either one game or two games in the play-in tournament is that coveted spot in the NBA Playoffs. While that means facing the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the first round of the seven-game series playoff format to follow, it’s still a shot at a Championship, which is what every team plays for.

While the teams at the bottom of the standings are still wrapping up the condensed 72-game regular season, and the teams involved have yet to be decided, the format is fun and exciting (for fans at least), and promises more than a few great betting opportunities.

Before we jump in to the betting tips, a few details:

When is the NBA Play-In Tournament?

The State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament will run May 18-21, 2021.

How Does the NBA Play-In Work?

  • The No. 7 seed will play the No. 8 seed in each conference
  • The winners of those games will earn the No. 7 seed in the NBA Playoffs
  • The loser of that game will then take on the winner of a game between the No. 9 and No. 10 seed in each conference
  • The winners of those game will each earn the No. 8 seed in their conference

This way, the two higher seeds get two chances to play their way into the playoffs with one win, and the lower seeds can get in with two wins. The NBA Board of Governors approved this playoff Play-In Tournament on a one-year basis to make up for the games missing from the 72-game schedule. That means more teams still in the hunt at the end can find a way into the playoffs.

NBA Play In Game Odds

Here’s how Play-In odds look as posted at legal US online sportsbooks. Use the drop-down menu on the left to change your odds board between point spreads, moneylines and totals; use the drop-down on the right to change your legal betting state. Click on any odds to go directly to the sportsbook, claim your bonus and start making your bets.

How Can You Bet on the NBA Play In Tournament?

What it means for you is the chance to watch and bet on what amounts to a few must-win sudden-death basketball games. It’s like a group of Game 7s without having to play the first six. Like LeBron James says (although he’s not much of a fan of the play-in tournament himself) the two most exciting words in all of sports are “Game 7.”

You can get in on all the action at legal online sportsbooks for NBA betting in your state. These are the 5 things to keep in mind when betting on the NBA and the Play-In Tournament specifically.

5 Essential Tips for Betting the 2021 NBA Play-in Games

1.  7 vs. 8 is Not A Must Win

While the rest of the games in the State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament are, No. 7 vs. No. 8 in each conference is not a must-win sudden-death game for either team. The teams involved will have to face a must-win sudden-death game if they lose this one, but they won’t be out.

In theory, that means these games will lack the intensity of the others. But that really depends on who’s playing. Plus, that theory ignores the fact most players involved will want to win this one pretty badly and avoid limping into a must-win, sudden-death game against a team that just won their way into it.

In other words, 7th vs. 8th is not a must win, but it’s the next best thing. While the intensity level may be down a notch, it’s just one notch.

2. Who’s Hot, Who’s Not?

nba play in oddsThere’s been a fight for playoff positioning and seeding in both Conferences, which means some teams will win their way into a No. 7 through No. 10 seed and a spot in the State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament. Some will back into it after sliding down the standings and barely hanging on to the slim playoff hopes the Play-In Games offer.

See the injury-riddled defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers odds for more on this.

Winning on the road to the Play-In Tournament won’t guarantee anyone a playoff spot any more than backing into it guarantees that team a quick knockout. However, it’s worth paying attention to who’s hot and who’s not coming into any must-win sudden-death scenario.

Just check the ‘Streak’ or ‘Last 10’ column in any NBA standings list at season’s end. Then, decide for yourself how much stock you want to put into teams on hot streaks and others that may be quite cold.

3. Which Team Has the Best Player on the Floor?

It’s an old saying used to explain why the best players in any league don’t win the title every year. NBA G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan had his own version, saying talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

It all adds up to the same thing: Teams that play together compete for titles together, but a great player can win a single game for you on any given night.

What does all this mean for the State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament? It means the team with the best player on the floor that night might just win it for his team. In other words, these No. 7 through No. 10 seeded teams might not have the right stuff to win a title this season, but they don’t necessarily need that to win a Play-In Game or two.

If there’s a great player on the roster, he might just have enough to carry them into the NBA Playoffs in this one or two game format.

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4. Veterans over Young Guns

History can’t tell us much about the 2021 State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament, considering this is the first time the format has been used. However, there was a single play-in game in the Western Conference in 2020. Ninth seeded Memphis was within four games of eighth seeded Portland in the Orlando bubble, dictating that the game be played.

A young and upcoming Memphis squad would have had to win two games to get in the NBA Playoffs. However, the veteran and experienced laden Portland team beat them in the first game to advance.

It was just one game, but it does suggest ‘veteran and experienced’ may be a better bet in play-in games than ‘young and upcoming.’ If that wasn’t already obvious

5. 7 and 8 Have the Bigger Edge

When the regular season is all said and done, there will likely only be a few games separating the No. 7 and No. 10 seeded teams in each Conference. However, the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds will be miles ahead of the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds in terms of their chances of making the NBA Playoffs. The Play-In Tournament format guarantees that.

First off, one of the No. 7 or No. 8 seeds will get in by virtue of beating the other in a single game. Secondly, the loser of that game gets a second chance to get in. For the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds there is only one way in and it requires two wins in two elimination games.

It’s hard enough to win one Game 7, never mind two in a row, giving the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds a huge advantage in the State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament.

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Photo by Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press
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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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