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How to legally watch the NBA playoffs without cable

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

In the past two years, it has become easier than ever to watch tons of NBA basketball without subscribing to a traditional cable package. That applies too to the NBA playoffs. In fact, there are several over-the-top services that allow you to catch every game of the 2018 NBA playoffs legally without having a cable subscription.

NBA playoff games are broadcast on four networks: TNT, ESPN, ABC, and NBA TV. There are caveats here, though.

  • NBA TV gets only a couple of games and only in the first round. Typically, it will be the least attractive national audience series who have games on NBA TV. As such, NBA TV is really the least essential of the four networks to have access to.
  • ABC will have high-profile games only on weekends until the NBA Finals, where ABC will have every game. ABC, as such, is a crucial network if you want to see the actual championship decided.
  • TNT and ESPN (and occasionally but rarely ESPN2) are the workhorses of the NBA playoffs. The bulk of the first two rounds — that’s everything from April 14 through May 14 — will be on TNT and ESPN. Then ESPN will have the entire Eastern Conference Finals in May, and TNT will have the entire Western Conference Finals.

So that’s the set-up. If you want access to all 60 to 105 NBA playoff games, you need access to those four networks.

The NBA TV bit is a struggle for many: it’s available to only 53 million cable subscribers as it is, compared to 93 million subscribers for TNT. It’s also quite harder to get over the top. The upside is that if your local team is getting NBA TV duty, you should be able to watch the local broadcast (if you have access to that, of course). The other issue here: NBA TV has some awesome original content NBA fans would love!

On the other end, ABC is dead simple: everyone can access NBA games broadcast on ABC with the free WatchESPN app. You won’t be able to get games broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 on that app without a subscription to a service that includes ESPN. But ABC games ... like the NBA Finals? You’re good. Just add internet access.

The others are straight-forward. Here are some streaming options. We’re focusing on NBA playoffs options here. If you want other networks too, you should check out the specific options — and other features like DVR and device compatibility — to see what’s best for you.

Sling TV

Sling TV’s Orange Package gets you access to the ESPN network of channels and TNT and for $20 per month. You can also purchase ABC and NBA TV through Sling TV on the side..

PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue’s $40 Access package gets you ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, and ABC. (With PlayStation Vue, you have access to ABC within the app without having to plug into WatchESPN.) If you upgrade to the $45 Core package, you add in NBA TV as well.

Hulu With Live TV

Hulu has added a live TV streaming package that includes ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, and TNT for $40 a month. This package also includes access to on-demand TV shows and films that Hulu is best known for. No NBA TV.

YouTube TV

If NBA TV is important to you, YouTube TV is currently the most affordable way to get it plus all the other NBA playoff networks. The $40 per month package includes ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, and NBA TV.

DirecTV Now

The lowest-end DirecTV Now package ($35 per month) will get you ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, and TNT. You can add on NBA TV by upgrading to the $60 per month package.