Update

The cord-cutter's guide to watching the NBA playoffs

How to watch all the hardwood heroics without paying for a cable subscription.

nba for cord cutters
Credit: ThinkStock

Editor’s note: This story been revised and updated to be relevant to the 2017 NBA playoffs. 

Update, June 9, 2017: Tonight could be the night for the Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Cavaliers will either win on their home court or get swept. ABC is carrying the entire series, so you'll want either an over-the-air antenna or one of the streaming services that carries either ESPN3 or your local ABC station. Tip off is at 9:00 PM Eastern.

Cord cutting brings particularly thorny challenges for sports fans, and they’re never more apparent than when the postseason rolls around. Case in point: the NBA playoffs, now underway. As in previous years, broadcasting of the postseason tournament will be divided between four networks: ABC, TNT, ESPN, and NBA TV.

Three of those are cable networks, but there are still ways for the enterprising cord cutter to catch most of the action. Based on the TV schedule available at press time, we’ve outlined your options for watching the playoffs without a cable- or satellite-TV subscription. By following our guide, you’ll be able to watch many—but not all—of the live broadcasts and see which team eventually lifts the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June.

Go with your antenna for ABC

ABC remains the only over-the-air (OTA) network broadcasting the NBA playoffs. The good news is you just need an antenna to watch the network’s games. As ABC has exclusive rights to the NBA Finals, you won’t miss a single layup when the best from the Eastern and Western conferences face off in June.

Mohu Releaf Jason Cipriani/TechHive

An antenna is all you need to watch the playoff games, including the NBA Finals, on ABC.

But your antenna will only get you so much game in the earlier rounds: According to the current TV schedule, ABC will carry four games in the first round, and possibly more if the Blazers/ Warriors, Bulls/Celtics, Jazz/Clippers, or Hawks/Wizards matchups go seven games. It will also broadcast three games in the Semifinals, but none in the Conference Finals, as those rights are owned by ESPN and TNT. Fortunately, there are online options for watching those games.

TNT Overtime is your ticket to TNT broadcasts

TNT is televising more than 40 playoff games this year. It’s currently confirmed to broadcast 17 in the first round—though that number will certainly go up if any matchups go more than four games—and it typically splits the bulk of the Semifinals with ESPN. It also exclusively carries the Eastern Conference Finals.

The easiest way to see those TNT games without cable is with TNT Overtime, a second-screen site that brings “enhanced coverage” of the network’s NBA games—including the playoffs—to your computer, tablet, or phone for free.

TNT Overtime TNT

TNT Overtime provides enhanced, interactive coverage of most of the games broadcast on TNT.

TNT Overtime doesn’t stream the TV broadcast feed. Instead, it offers you a customized view of the game with your choice of four HD camera angles—the Backboard Cam gets you up close to the scoring, two Player Cams exclusively track individual players as voted on by fans, and the Action Cam gives you a court-level view of all the, well, action—with exclusive content and analysis from TNT commentators.

If you can’t decide on one angle, you can watch all four at the same time in Mosaic view. The site also posts highlight clips from each angle and offers a few social-media features, so you can connect with other fans during the game. As an addition this season, TNT Overtime’s highlights, stats and play-by-play integrations will be available alongside the live game experience. 

TNT has promised that more than 30 of its playoff games will get the TNT Overtime treatment, so this is great time to try out the service if you’ve never used it before.

Get Sling TV for everything ESPN

Sling TV has been a godsend for cable-cutting sports junkies, and it’s downright essential during the NBA postseason. The service’s $20-per-month Sling Orange package offers 30-plus channels, including ESPN and ESPN2, which will account for 21 games throughout the first round and semifinals. ESPN also has exclusive rights to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Sling TV menu Sling TV

A monthly subcription to Sling TV will bring you all the playoff coverage on ESPN and TNT.

On April 28, however, ESPN will be in the thick of its NFL Draft coverage. That means ESPNews may pick up the slack by carrying some of that day’s four first-round Game 6’s if necessary. To get ESPNews and catch those games, you’ll need to add Sling TV’s Sports Extra package ($5 per month in addition to the basic subscription).

SlingTV will also give you access to TNT. Sling TV streams live TV broadcasts, so unlike with TNT Overtime, you’ll be seeing exactly what you would if you were watching the games as part of a cable package.

You can watch Sling TV on your iOS or Android device or on your big screen with a Chromecast, Apple TV, or Amazon FireTV. In fact, the service is offering a discounted Roku Premiere+ or Apple TV with a three-month commitment or a free Roku Express when you pre-pay for two months.

Sling TV comes with a seven-day free trial and requires no commitment or contract. You can cancel as soon as the playoffs end—though with such other offerings as A&E, CNN, Food Network, and Disney Channel, you might find you want to keep it around.

PlayStation Vue is an affordable alternative

Sony’s PlayStation Vue service brings another streaming option this postseason, but its subscription price and what’s included is dependent on where you live. Its basic Access package offer more than 45 channels with a similar channel lineup to Sling TV, including TNT, ABC ESPN, and ESPN2. 

PlayStation Vue Sony

Sony's PlayStation's Access Vue service is more expensive than Sling TV, but it includes more channels.

If you live in a market where Sony has the right to carry live feeds of some of or all the major networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox—Sony’s least-expensive plan is $40 per month, but you won’t need an antenna for ABC. If you don’t live one of those areas, the cheapest plan costs $30 per month, and you’ll need to catch the ABC games over the air. You can determine your local channel availability by entering your zip code on the PlayStation Vue site.

If you do subscribe to PlayStation Vue, you can complement your OTA playoff viewing by catching the cable telecasts on your PlayStation console, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or iOS device.

A new postseason player: DirectTV Now

DirecTV Now DirecTV

DirectTV Now, AT&T’s recently launched streaming service offers many of the same channels as SlingTV and PlayStation Vue. For $35 a month, its basic package will give you more than 60 channels—including, ABC, TNT, ESPN and ESPN2. To get ESPNews, though, you’ll have to bump up to the 80-channel Just Right package for $50 a month. As with Sling TV, you get the first seven days free.

You can stream DirectTV Now to your computer, iOS or Android devices, Apple TV, Android Fire TV, and Chromecast.

No NBA TV, no dice

Unfortunately, there’s no workaround for legally watching the NBA TV games without cable. The upside is NBA TV will carry only four playoff broadcasts, all in the first round: Games 2, 3 and 5 (if necessary) of Bucks vs. Raptors and Game 2 of Hawks vs. Wizards. There’s a possibility you could miss a few more if any of the first-round matchups go to a Game 5, 6, or 7, as those games would be split between NBA TV and TNT. Still, if you’re an NBA League Pass subscriber, you can likely view the game replays in the archives.

Game on

Sports broadcasting still lags behind other types of TV programming in offering streaming options. But with the cord-cutting solutions above, we’re confident you’ll be able to tune in when your favorite team hits the hardwood.

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