Do NBA in-season tournament games matter? Why it counts and how it works

One NBA team will soon be crowned the winner of the first-ever NBA Cup. Here's everything you need to know about the inaugural in-season tournament

NBA basketball
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The NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament is set to tip off on Nov. 3.

The NBA season may have just started, but in just a few weeks, the league will name an MVP and a team will raise a championship trophy.

And banner? Will there actually be in-season championship banners?! Not all details are known just yet.   

The league began its inaugural in-season tournament on Nov. 3, with all 30 teams having an opportunity to win the NBA Cup and cash prizes. 

The addition of the tournament drew mixed reactions from fans on social media when the league officially unveiled the format in July after months of speculation.

“This is a concept that has been rumbling around the league office for about 15 years,” Adam Silver told reporters at the time. “It’s not a new concept in sports. For those that follow particularly international soccer, it’s a long tradition of having in-season we thought, what a perfect opportunity for a global league like the NBA and it’s a perfect fit for our game.”

Here's everything to know about how the tournament works, the schedule and how to watch.

When does the NBA in-season tournament start?

The first games were played on Friday, Nov. 3.

All NBA games played on Tuesdays and Fridays between Nov. 3 and Nov. 28 -- now called  "Tournament Nights" -- will be group play games.

The quarterfinals will be held on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5, and the semifinals will be played on Dec. 7. The tournament concludes with the championship game on Dec. 9.

Here is the full schedule.

How does the NBA in-season tournament work?

The NBA Cup has a similar format to the World Cup.

All 30 teams will compete in group play, having been placed into six groups of five teams within their conference. Teams face each of their group opponents once for a total of four group play games, two at home and two on the road.

If two or more teams are tied within a group, the following tiebreakers are used...

  • Head-to-head record in the Group Stage

  • Point differential in the Group Stage

  • Total points scored in the Group Stage

  • Regular season record from the 2022-23 NBA regular season

  • Random drawing (in the unlikely scenario that two or more teams are still tied following the previous tiebreakers).

Eight teams advance to the single-elimination knockout rounds: the top team in each of the six groups and a wild-card team in each conference that's awarded to the second-place finisher with the best overall record. Wild card tiebreakers follow the same tiebreaker sequence but begin with point differential.

Winning teams advance to the semifinals and then finals.

Teams entered the season with only 80 scheduled games. The 22 teams that do not advance to the knockout round will play two regular-season games during tournament off nights on Dec. 6 and Dec. 8. The four teams that lose in the quarterfinals will play a regular-season game on Dec. 8.

What are the groups for the NBA in-season tournament?

The 30 teams were divided into six groups based on records from the 2022-2023 regular season.

Pot 1: The teams with the three best prior-season records in a conference

Pot 2: The teams with the fourth- through sixth-best prior-season records

Pot 3: The teams with the seventh- through ninth-best prior-season records

Pot 4: The teams with the 10th-through 12th-best prior-season records

Pot 5: The teams with the 13th-through 15th-best prior-season records

And here are the six groups in total, with three in each conference.

West Group A: Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers

West Group B: Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets

West Group C: Kings, Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs

East Group A: Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons

East Group B: Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets

East Group C: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic

Does the NBA in-season tournament matter?

Define "matter."

All of the games count towards the 82-game regular-season standings, with the exception of the championship game. Teams that advance to the knockout round all receive a share of the roughly $18 million prize pool, with teams advancing the furthest getting the largest allotment.

Players on the team that wins the NBA Cup will take home an extra $500,000 each, while the runner-up will receive $200,000 each. Semifinal losers will collect $100,000 each and the quarterfinal losers get $50,000.

The tournament winner also gets bragging rights, a trophy and probably championship hats and shirts.

The NBA will also name the Most Valuable Player of the In-Season Tournament and the All-Tournament Team.

But, other than tournament games counting towards regular-season win-loss records, the tournament has no impact on the postseason bracket.

Where is the in-season tournament NBA?

Group play and the knockout rounds of the in-season tournament will be played at each team's respective home arenas.

The semifinals and championship will take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

How to watch the NBA in-season tournament

Two group play games on each Tournament Night will be televised nationally, as will all seven knockout round games. Those games will be broadcasted on either ESPN, TNT, NBATV or ABC.

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