May 18 (UPI) -- Four NBA teams will fight for two playoff spots in the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively, as part of the league's new Play-In Tournament, which starts Tuesday.
The new format resembles that of the First Four in the annual NCAA Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments.
NBA stars LeBron James and Luka Doncic are among top players who criticized the tournament, but it undoubtedly injected intrigue into the end of the NBA regular season.
"We are in a good spot," Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry told reporters Sunday. "There is a lot of work to do. No matter how the postseason goes, I'm really proud of the way we've given ourselves a chance to make this season matter."
The No. 9 seed Indiana Pacers host the No. 10 Charlotte Hornets in the first game at 6:30 p.m. EDT in Indianapolis. The No. 7 Boston Celtics then host the No. 8 Washington Wizards at 9 p.m. in Boston. Both games air on TNT.
LeBron James' No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers host Curry's No. 8 Warriors in the final first-round game at 10 p.m. EDT that day in Los Angeles. Both of Wednesday's games air on ESPN.
"I'll prepare for it the same way I always play for a playoff matchup, because it is," James told reporters Sunday. "We are familiar with a few of their guys. I'll prep on my day off then we will lock in and get ready to play Wednesday night."
The NBA experimented with the idea of a Play-In Tournament last season when the league's 2019-20 campaign was suspended by COVID-19 and the remainder of the season and playoffs were moved to a bubble campus in Orlando, Fla.
The structure for this year's tournament involves the teams that finished from No. 7 through 10 in each conference's standings.
The league's introduction of the tournament resulted in highly-placed teams trying to avoid playing in the Play-In Tournament as lower-ranked teams stayed in contention longer due to their ability to clinch a spot in the Play-In Tournament games.
Teams wrestled down the stretch, keeping star players in lineups longer than they would have had their fate already been decided like in previous years without the tournament.
The winners of each conference's No. 7 vs. 8 Play-In Tournament game advances to the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. The loser of that game faces the winner of the No. 9 versus No. 10 matchup to secure the final seed in each respective conference.
The playoffs start Saturday. The Philadelphia 76ers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, face the No. 8 seed in the first round. The Brooklyn Nets, the No. 2 seed in the East, battle the No. 7 seed in the first round.
The Lakers and Grizzlies are the heaviest favorites to advance in their games. The Pacers and Celtics are also expected to advance.
Hornets at Pacers at 6:30 p.m. EDT on TNT
Wizards at Celtics at 9 p.m. EDT on TNT
Spurs at Grizzlies at 7:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN
Warriors at Lakers at 10 p.m. EDT on ESPN
Loser of East 7/8 game vs. winner of East 9/10 game at 8 p.m. EDT on TNT
Loser of East 7/8 game vs. winner of East 9/10 game at TBD on ESPN