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 this Saturday. As in previous years, broadcasting of the postseason tournament will be divided among four networks: ABC, TNT, ESPN, and NBA TV.
Three of those are cable networks, but for the enterprising cord cutter there are still ways 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 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) station 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 a maximum of eight games in the first round, three games in the Semifinals, but none in the Conference Finals, as they're 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 16 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 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. 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. What you don't get: commentators, on-screen graphics, and commercials, which, depending on where you stand, may be added incentive.
TNT has promised that up to 30 of its playoff games will get the TNT Overtime treatment--more than ever before--so this is great time to try out the service if you've never used it.
Get Sling TV for everything ESPN
Cable-cutting sports fans surely rejoiced when Sling TV was announced earlier this year. The service, which streams a selection of cable/satellite and OTA channels for $20 a month, carries virtually all of ESPN's offerings. ESPN and ESPN2 will account for 10 games in the first round, 9 games in the semifinals, and all the Western Conference Finals, so a Sling TV subscription is a must if you want see to all those games.
But this year, another of the sports network's channels is getting in on the act. Because ESPN2 will be running coverage of the NFL draft all night on May 1, ESPNews will carry two of that day's four first-round Game 6's if necessary. While a basic Sling subscription will get you access to ESPN and ESPN2, you'll need to add Sling TV's Sports Extra package ($5 per month in addition to the basic subscription) to get ESPNews.
Even better, 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.
If the idea of subscribing to TV service makes you hesitant, keep in mind Sling TV 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.
No NBA TV, no dice
Unfortunately, there's no workaround for legally watching the NBA TV games without cable. The upside is NBA TV usually gets just a handful of playoff broadcasts, all in the first round, so you're guaranteed to miss only three games: Game 2 of Wizards vs. Raptors, Game 2 of Nets vs. Hawks, and Game 3 of Bulls vs. Bucks. 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.
Obviously, sports streaming still has a long way to go before it can match the options available for other types of TV programming. But with the cable alternatives above, we're confident you'll be able to tune in when you're favorite team hits the hardwood this weekend.