by Bill Snyder

How to watch NBA playoff games without paying for cable

Apr 24, 20153 mins
Consumer Electronics

Love NBA basketball, but hate your cable company? Now you can cut the cord and still watch live playoff games.

If you can’t live without your Warriors, Cavs or Pelicans fix, but you also can’t live with Comcast or another greedy cable provider, there’s a way to watch the NBA playoffs without paying a big cable bill.

In fact, I found three solutions: Sling TV, TNT Overtime, and an over-the-air antenna. Two of these options are streaming video services, while the third, the antenna, is a modern take on a technology that dates back to the 1950s and used to be called rabbit ears. All three are weapons in the ongoing consumer rebellion against pricey cable and satellite services that make customers pay for scores of channels they don’t want to watch. The trend is called “cord cutting,” and it is quickly gaining momentum. 

The lack of live sports coverage is a significant downside for many people who want to cut the cord, but that’s changing. (Thanks to Steve Belk of for pulling some of this information together.)

Sling TV, a service related to Dish Network, costs $20 a month, and you can use it to stream stations including ESPN, ESPN2 and TNT to your television, computer or mobile device. You can get even more sports channels for an additional $5 a month. Sling currently offers a free week, so you can sign up, catch a whole week of playoffs, and if you don’t like it, simply cancel.

Sling also offers deals on devices you might use with the service, including 50 percent off the price of a Roku 3 or Amazon Fire TV. Sling is still new, and it hasn’t worked out all the bugs; there were, for example, some service interruptions when millions of people tried to use Sling TV to watch HBO’s recent “Game of Thrones” season premier.

TNT is a cable channel that carries the playoffs and also offers a few games a day on a free service called TNT Overtime. On Thursday, for example, it carried the Cavs against the Celtics, and the Warriors versus the Pelicans.

TNT Overtime lets you choose from four different camera angles, or you can view all of them at once in a four-way, split-screen window. Fans also get to vote on the player they want one of the cameras to follow throughout the game. I don’t have a very fast Internet connection, but watching part of a game on my monitor was just fine — it wasn’t jumpy or blurry. You might have to fiddle a bit with the interface to get a view you like.

Then there’s the old school option of broadcast TV. ABC carries many of the games, including all of The Finals. If  you use a TV that you already liberated from thralldom to the cable company, you only need an antenna to get broadcast TV. These antennas are a bit different than the one my parents had on their television because they’re digital — all U.S. broadcast television has been digital for a few years.

You can buy indoor or outdoor antennas at Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers. Indoor antennas are easy to set up; outdoor antennas require some cord and a trip up to the roof, but they probably do a somewhat better job.

You can also connect a digital antenna to a PC or Mac. This requires a TV tuner; some include an indoor antenna. There are quite a few for sale on Amazon for less than $100, but I don’t know anyone who has set one up, and the process might be tricky.

Enjoy the playoffs. (Editor’s note: Go Celtics!)