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 may be able to watch 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. We updated the story again on May 14, 2018 to add information about watching the NBA Western Conference Finals in virtual reality.
The virtual reality experience
Intel and Turner Sports have announced they will air every game of the NBA Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors, which starts tonight, in virtual reality. Hoopheads with Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream headsets can watch this special VR presentation of the series by downloading the NBA on TNT VR App from the Oculus and Google Play stores.
The VR telecasts are separate from the TNT television broadcasts and will feature TNT sportscaster Spero Dedes and Charlotte Hornets broadcaster Stephanie Ready delivering customized VR commentary to break down the interactive experience as well as the game.
TNT produced several games in VR during the regular season. Unlike the TV broadcasts and streaming feeds, the VR production creates an experience of being in the arena with a 360-degree view of the action. Viewers can also call up stats during a game, and multiple angles allow them to review plays with a scrutiny that might make the refs jealous. Full-game replays, highlights and more are all accessible from a virtual version of the “Inside the NBA” set.
To capture immersive footage of the game, Intel places stereoscopic pods around the arena, each of which houses up to a dozen 4K-resolution cameras. The footage is then stitched and encoded to produce multiple content streams. Viewers can watch a fully produced feed or toggle between multiple vantage points of their choice to create a customized game experience.
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. (Our guide to finding the best indoor antenna can help you out.)
But your antenna will only get you so much game in the earlier rounds: According to thecurrent 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, ESPN2, and ESPN3, which simulcasts all the ABC broadcasts including the Finals. That accounts for 28 games throughout the first round and semifinals. ESPN also has exclusive rights to the Eastern Conference Finals.
SlingTV will also give you access to TNT, which will broadcast up to 58 games including all the Western Conference Finals. 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.
But don’t stop there. If you add Sling TV’s Sports Extra package for an additional $5 per month, you’ll get ESPNews, which will pick up the four first-round Game 6’s on April 27 when ESPN is in the thick of its NFL Draft coverage. You’ll also get NBA TV and any games that are broadcast there. That means you could catch every NBA postseason game with a single subscription.
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 what’s included is dependent on where you live. Its Core package offers more than 60 channels for $45 per month with a similar channel lineup to Sling TV, including TNT, ESPN, ESPN2, NBA TV, and ABC if you’re in market where Sony has the right to carry its live feed (If you’re not, you’ll need an antenna to catch those games.) You can determine your local channel availability by entering your zip code on the PlayStation Vue site.
If you have PS4, you can also take advantage of Vue’s 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.
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.