NBA Playoffs 101

NBA Playoffs 101: How they work, what to know & why you should care

After six months of regular season play that included 2, site 460 NBA games (that’s 30 NBA teams X 82 games), advice the playoffs officially get underway on Saturday. If your playoff knowledge and interest went out the window when Derrick Rose went down during the last NBA playoffs, remedy then read on for the must know details on how the NBA playoffs work, when to watch and why you should care.


  • Who makes the playoffs: Of the 30 teams in the NBA (15 in the Eastern Conference and 15 in the Western Conference) the top 8 teams from each conference with the best regular season records make the playoffs for a total of 16 teams. Because 60% of the teams in the league make the playoffs, the NBA is statistically one of the easiest leagues in pro sports for teams to make the post season. The NHL is the same.
  • Who plays who: Match-ups are determined by seeding where each team is slotted #1-#8 with the team with the best season record receiving the #1 seed in the conference, the 2nd best team is #2 and so on, down to the 8th and last placed team that made the playoffs. The #1 seed with play the #8 seed, the #2 seed plays the #7 seed and so on, pitting the best teams in the conference vs. the worst. VIEW BRACKET HERE.  Unlike the NHL, once seeding is set, teams are not reseeded after each round.  
  • Schedule: The NBA playoffs are LONG – lasting over a month and a half. There are four rounds to the NBA playoffs, all are the best of 7 games. Games alternate between the two team’s cities with the team with home court advantage getting 4 of 7 potential match-ups. If a team wins all 4 games, it is called a sweep. There are usually a few sweeps in the first round since the best team is playing the worst team, but rarely in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
    • 1st Round: Conference Quarterfinals
    • 2nd Round: Conference Semifinals
    • 3rd Round: Conference Finals
    • 4th Round: NBA Finals
  • Refresher: Last season the Bulls were eliminated in the 1st round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia 76ers, 2-4. Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL in Game 1 and Joakim Noah was hurt in Game 3. The Miami Heat went on to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 1-4, in the NBA Finals giving LeBron James his first NBA Title.


This will be the 5th consecutive season that the Bulls have made the playoffs. Four out of the last 5 appearances have ended with elimination in the first round. The exception to this was in 2011 when the Bulls finished the season with the best record in the NBA and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were beaten by the Miami Heat.

Last year, the Bulls lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, 2-4 after Derrick Rose’s historic ACL tear in Game 1. After a long season of injuries, inconsistency, and waiting for Derrick Rose to return, many are not expecting the Bulls to go very far during these playoffs, especially without Rose on the court.

Derrick Rose’s torn ACL in 2012 playoffs.

Will Rose return during the playoffs?  Will the Bulls’ dominance over the Brooklyn Nets (they beat them 3-1 in the regular season) continue in the first round of the playoffs? Can the Bulls get past LeBron and the Miami Heat who they are set up to play in the 2nd round? How will the beat-up Bulls manage during the grueling and mentally exhausting playoffs? Can anyone get past the Miami Heat? If none of these questions intrigue you enough to at least tune in, then our job here is useless.

For a complete first round NBA playoff schedule and league match-ups, click HERE. Check back in daily during the Bulls playoffs for our cheat sheets and recaps and make this the season you truly enjoy the NBA playoffs.

About the author: Monica Murphy Vargas. Co-Founder/Special Contributor. Monica is the Co-Founder of SDI. A Chicago transplant for over 10 years, by way of her native Cleveland, Monica is an avid fan of the Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Indians and Buckeyes. A closet Bachelor fan, Monica is addicted to her BOB running stroller, NFL Red Zone, and Viktor Stalberg.  After 10+ years of rewarding gigs at ESPN and Comcast,  Monica launched SDI while spending time with her now 4-year-old twin daughters, Vida and Vivian. Monica is also the Senior Sales Director for Clever Girls Collective, the social media agency that offers content marketing and native advertising at scale across a vetted network of 6500+ female influencers.

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