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How to watch and stream the 2021 NBA basketball season without cable

How to watch and stream the 2021 NBA basketball season without cable

October is finally here, which means it’s time for the NBA to turn the heat up on the courts. The league tips off its 75th-anniversary season on Oct. 19 with a full 82-game slate for the first time in two years — and the storylines couldn’t be any more intense. 

Are LeBron James and the Lakers on a collision course with Kevin Durant and the Nets for the NBA title? Or will Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks prove that they are more than just a one-hit wonder and win back-to-back championships? 

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates in the final second before defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 to win the 2021 NBA Finals.


Justin Casterline/Getty Images

This season the NBA will continue its expanded playoff format with a play-in tournament at the end of the season for the teams seeded 7-10 in each conference. The winners will take the last two seeds in their conference and continue on to battle in the traditional 16-team best-of-seven series structure. The action is going to be tight all season long as teams jockey for playoff positions. 

So what does all this mean for NBA fans looking to stream their team’s games? First of all, fans will most likely need access to a few channels in order to catch every second of the season. ABC and ESPN will combine to televise 101 games, TNT will air 65 and NBA TV will have 107. All out-of-market games will continue to air on NBA League Pass.

The good news is that you don’t need cable to watch basketball this year, but it still might be the easiest and cheapest choice depending on where you live.

Read more: NFL 2021: How to watch and stream football, RedZone this season without cable

Live TV streaming services vs. cable

Die-hard sports fans are beholden to regional sports networks, or RSNs, that carry the majority of the games for their local team. These RSNs are usually included in local cable packages, so most cable subscribers never have to worry about gaining access to the broadcasts on these channels: They can simply turn on the TV and watch the game. 

Cord-cutting basketball fans have a tougher path. Because of rights agreements, most live TV streaming services like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV don’t carry many RSNs. DirecTV Stream is the exception. It has nearly every RSN, particularly the Bally Sports channels (formerly Fox Sports) offered by Sinclair, but you’ll need to spring for its $85-a-month plan. 

Read more: DirecTV Stream review: Expensive, but the best option for streaming NBA and NHL

Ultimately, depending on your location, getting a cable subscription that includes ESPN, TNT and the local RSN might actually be cheaper and easier than streaming — especially if it’s bundled with the home internet you’ll likely be getting anyway. 

NBA League Pass, NBA TV and blackouts

For NBA fans looking to watch a ton of out-of-market basketball, a subscription to NBA League Pass has a lot to offer. You can get the whole NBA slate for $199 for the season, with commercials and one device, or $249 for the season with in-arena feeds instead of commercials, and the ability to watch on two devices at once. Those interested in following only a single team can buy a Team Pass for $119 for the season.

The key catch here is “out-of-market.” Most fans are in-market, meaning they follow the local team, and unfortunately for them RSNs have broadcast exclusivity in the region that they cover. That means local NBA games are blacked out on NBA League Pass.

If you’re living in Los Angeles, for example, you won’t be able to watch Lakers or Clippers games on NBA League Pass. The same goes for Knicks fans in New York, Bucks fans in Milwaukee and so on. The only way to watch most of those home team games in your home market is to get a service that has the local RSN, namely Spectrum SportsNet, Bally Sports SoCal, MSG Network or Bally Sports Wisconsin. 

Services like NBA League Pass use IP addresses to block out games in viewers’ regions — you’ll just get a black screen if you try to watch those games. That’s why League Pass is ideal for those who want to follow one or more of the teams based in cities other than their own, aka out-of-market teams, but for local fans it’s not as useful. 

In another twist, the NBA TV network will broadcast 107 games this season that will be considered national for those out-of-market. This means that you will still be able to watch your local team play on your RSN, but viewers around the country will need NBA TV in order to watch the game — it will be blacked out on League Pass.

Luckily, League Pass subscribers have the option of adding NBA TV to their package for an extra $60 a year or $7 a month. This is most likely one of the cheapest ways to get NBA TV for the out-of-market fan. 

YouTube TV is the only live TV streaming service that includes NBA TV in its base channel lineup. DirecTV Stream, FuboTV and Sling offer the channel only on higher-priced tiers or in special add-ons; see below for details.

DirecTV Stream: Best for fans of the local team at $85

For those determined to watch their local basketball team without a cable or satellite TV subscription, a live TV streaming service is the best bet. While it is pricey, DirecTV Stream is the best option for most people, particularly those where the local games air on Bally Sports networks. 

Below is a chart of all of the NBA teams in the US and their corresponding RSNs. 

Note: None of the (US-based) services carry the RSN for the Toronto Raptors. Fans looking to watch Fred VanVleet and co. need to use NBA League Pass to get all the games that are not either on your local RSN or on a US national broadcast.

RSN availability by team and streaming service

Team Network Name DirecTV Stream FuboTV YouTube TV Hulu Plus Live TV Sling Blue
Atlanta Hawks Bally Sports Southeast Yes No No No No
Boston Celtics NBC Sports Boston Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Brooklyn Nets YES Network Yes No No No No
Charlotte Hornets Bally Sports Southeast Yes No No No No
Chicago Bulls NBC Sports Chicago Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Cleveland Cavaliers Bally Sports Ohio Yes No No No No
Dallas Mavericks Bally Sports Southwest Yes No No No No
Denver Nuggets Altitude Yes No No No No
Detroit Pistons Bally Sports Detroit Yes No No No No
Golden State Warriors NBC Sports Bay Area Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Houston Rockets AT&T SportsNet Southwest Yes Yes No No No
Indiana Pacers Bally Sports Indiana Yes No No No No
Los Angeles Clippers Bally Sports SoCal Yes No No No No
Los Angeles Lakers Spectrum SportsNet Yes No No No No
Memphis Grizzlies Bally Sports Southeast Yes No No No No
Miami Heat Bally Sports Sun Yes No No No No
Milwaukee Bucks Bally Sports Wisconsin Yes No No No No
Minnesota Timberwolves Bally Sports North Yes No No No No
New Orleans Pelicans Bally Sports New Orleans Yes No No No No
New York Knicks MSG Yes Yes No No No
Oklahoma City Thunder Bally Sports Oklahoma Yes No No No No
Orlando Magic Bally Sports Florida Yes No No No No
Philadelphia 76ers NBC Sports Philadelphia No Yes Yes Yes No
Phoenix Suns Bally Sports Arizona Yes No No No No
Portland Trail Blazers Root Sports Northwest Yes Yes No No No
Sacramento Kings NBC Sports California Yes Yes Yes Yes No
San Antonio Spurs Bally Sports Southwest Yes No No No No
Utah Jazz AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain Yes Yes No No No
Washington Wizards NBC Sports Washington Yes Yes Yes Yes No

Some key takeaways:

  • The RSNs above are typically only available to local subscribers. Refer to the individual service’s details below to find out if you live in a place where you can receive a particular RSN. 
  • DirecTV Stream’s $85-a-month Choice package includes NBA TV and all of the RSNs for basketball, with the exception of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Sixers fans hoping to watch Joel Embiid pulverize the competition will have to look elsewhere. 
  • They could jump over to FuboTV, Hulu Plus Live TV or YouTube TV, which all carry NBC Sports Philadelphia, but fans of other teams will mostly be out of luck. FuboTV only offers 10 RSNs for basketball, while Hulu Plus Live TV and YouTube TV only have six. Sling TV doesn’t offer a single RSN.

One other note: If you don’t recognize the name of some of these channels, don’t worry. As mentioned, the Fox Sports RSNs have been rebranded as Bally Sports, because the channels are no longer owned by Fox but Sinclair, which has since partnered with casino group Bally’s to rename them. 

DirecTV Stream is expensive. It’s the priciest of the five major live TV streaming services, but it’s also the one with the most RSNs. Its cheapest, $70-a-month Plus package includes ESPN, ABC, TNT and TBS. You’ll need to move up to the $85-a-month Choice plan to get any available RSN as well as NBA TV. You can use its channel lookup tool to see which local channels and RSNs are available in your area. 

Best options for nationally broadcast games

Aside from DirecTV Stream, the odds are long that a live TV streaming service carries the RSN for your local team’s games, which makes the other four services better bets for watching nationally televised games. 

FuboTV costs $65 per month and offers 10 RSNs for basketball. It also includes ESPN, but not TBS — which might be a problem for some basketball fans. But you can add NBA TV for an extra $7 a month with the Fubo Extra Package or pay for the $80-a-month Elite streaming tier, which includes Fubo Extra. Check out which local networks and RSNs it offers here.

YouTube TV costs $65 a month and offers six RSNs for basketball, along with all of the national broadcasts including NBA TV. Plug in your ZIP code on its welcome page to see which local networks and RSNs are available in your area.

Hulu Plus Live TV costs $65 a month and carries six RSNs for basketball, along with ESPN, ABC, TBS and TNT, but not NBA TV. Click the “View all channels in your area” link at the bottom of its welcome page to see which local networks and RSNs are available where you live.

Sling Blue currently lacks a single RSN to watch basketball. You can, however, use Sling to watch some national broadcasts. Sling TV’s Orange plan includes ESPN, and both plans offer TBS, but none of them give you access to ABC. NBA TV is available as part of the Sports Extra add-on, which costs $11 a month for either the Blue or Orange plan, or $15 for the combined Orange-and-Blue plan. The individual plans cost $35 a month each, and the Orange-and-Blue plan costs $50 a month. You can see which local channels you get here.

Each live TV streaming service offers a free trial, allows you to cancel anytime and requires a solid internet connection. Looking for more information? Check out our live TV streaming services guide.