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, which start Saturday, April 14. 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.
Editors’ note: This story was updated in its entirety on April 9, 2018 to be relevant to the 2018 NBA Playoffs and Finals.
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.
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 any of the 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
The full TV schedule wasn’t available at press time, but TNT televised more than 40 playoff games each of the past two postseasons, so it’s fair to expect about the same this year. About half of those are broadcast 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 Western Conference Finals this year.
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 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.
Most of TNT’s playoff games usually get the TNT Overtime treatment, so this is great time to try out the service if you’ve never used it before.
These free options will only get you part way through the playoffs, though; you’ll need to subscribe a streaming service—at least temporarily—to get access to the bulk of the broadcasts. Here’s what’s available.
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 19 games throughout the first round and semifinals. ESPN also has exclusive rights to the Eastern Conference Finals.
On April 27, however, ESPN will be in the thick of its NFL Draft coverage. That means ESPNews might 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 Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV. In fact, the service is currently offering a discounted Roku Ultra or AirTV Player and Adapter bundle with a three-month commitment, or a free Roku Express when you pre-pay for two months. You’ll still need a way to access the games broadcast on ABC, however, so Sling is also offering discounts on an RCA HDTV Indoor Antenna and AirTV Bundle when you prepay for three months and the same antenna a la carte when you prepay 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.
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.
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. You’ll also get PlayStation Vue’s includes a multi-view feature, which allows you to watch up to three live channels all on one screen, so you can focus on one game while keeping an eye on one or two others at the same time. 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 consoles, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or iPad. The multi-view feature, however, is currently only available on the PS4 and Fire TV.
DirectTV Now, AT&T’s 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.
Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV
Hulu and YouTube have made things simpler for cord-cutters by offering single flat-fee packages that include the bulk of their channel offerings. YouTube TV is the better choice for NBA fans as it includes NBATV along with ABC, TNT, and the three ESPN networks you need to catch all the playoff action. At $35 a month, it’s also five bucks cheaper than Hulu with Live TV, which offers those same channels minus NBATV.
Don’t let the price decide for you, though. You’ll need to check with each service to see which offers the required live channel streams in your area before making you ultimate decision. As with many of the services, there’s a 7-day free trial available.
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.
This story, “The cord-cutter’s guide to watching the NBA playoffs” was originally published by
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