NBA Playoff Schedule 2021: Dates, TV, Live-Stream Coverage for Postseason
After a season riddled with injuries and unexpected comeback stories, the 2021 NBA playoffs are upon us.
This year's 16-team bracket is nearly set, but first, four teams will compete for the last two seeds of their respective conferences in the play-in tournament. Starting Tuesday, these unanticipated participants—including the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers—will fight to extend their season and enter a field that is wide open.
The East will kick off the tournament with the Indiana Pacers vs. Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards. The winners of the Celtics and the Wizards will secure the seventh seed and advance to the first round. The losers will play the victors of the Pacers and Hornets matchup for the eighth spot Thursday.
NBA Play-In and Playoffs Schedule
May 18-21: Play-in tournament
May 22: Start of first round of playoffs
July 22: Last possible date for final game of NBA Finals
Tuesday, May 18
Game 1 (East): No. 9 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 10 Charlotte Hornets, 6:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 2 (East): No. 7 Boston Celtics vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
Wednesday, May 19
Game 3 (West): No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 10 San Antonio Spurs, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 4: (West): No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Golden State Warriors, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Thursday, May 20
East: Winner of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
Friday, May 21
West: Winner of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4, TBD (ESPN)
The dates for the first round will be available at NBA.com. Games that air on ESPN and ABC will stream live on ESPN+. Games that air on TNT can be streamed on Watch TNT.
LeBron James and Steph Curry Go Head to Head
The biggest story heading into the play-in tournament is the matchup between Los Angeles and Golden State.
Because of a string of injuries, the Lakers find themselves on the outside looking in as they start their quest to return to the NBA Finals. On Wednesday, LeBron James and the defending champions will have to contend with an even more unlikely opponent in the Warriors, whom most viewers wrote off after Klay Thompson sustained a season-ending Achilles tear.
Although losing their second option for two years in a row was a blow to the former dynasty, Stephen Curry has had a phenomenal season. The two-time NBA scoring champion shattered records and netted 38 30-point games as he propelled his team up the standings.
The eighth-seeded Warriors have a tall task ahead as they move on to face a dangerous Lakers team and possibly the top two teams in the West. But the two-time MVP's historic run will make Golden State difficult to count out.
James and Curry's rivalry has been at the forefront for the past seven years, so what were the odds that they would have to face each other in hopes of entering the playoffs this year? This matchup will make the second play-in tournament a must-watch event. Their showdown isn't a sudden-death game, but the seventh seed and a chance to avoid the Utah Jazz could make all the difference for either team.
What to Expect from the 2021 NBA Playoffs
Coming into this season, the Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets had to be the favorites to meet in the Finals. However, injuries have hampered both teams and especially the Purple and Gold, who barely eked out 40 wins.
This sets the stage for a postseason that is anyone's to win. It isn't hard to imagine a Cinderella team like last year's Miami Heat could exceed expectations and pull off an upset. Brooklyn's offensive capabilities make them a threat in the Eastern Conference, but the Philadelphia 76ers have also been having an incredible season led by a legitimate MVP candidate in Joel Embiid.
The Sixers have been playing stellar defense this season, which makes them a contender as they will likely face the winner of a Milwaukee Bucks and Nets series. Milwaukee will have a tougher road for that reason, as they may have to get past the top two teams in their conference.
Meanwhile, the New York Knicks' first playoff appearance in eight years could make for some entertaining games. New York is a gutsy team with an exceptional coach and a host of talented players. They're not exactly contenders yet, but Julius Randle and company will surprise some fans.
With the Lakers entering the play-in tournament, the Western Conference will be much more intriguing than expected. Utah and the Phoenix Suns have a high ceiling, and the Los Angeles Clippers are still formidable opponents for anyone. This stiff competition will make winning a fifth championship more difficult than ever for LeBron James.