NBA streaming: How to watch the end of the regular season without cable
When it comes to following the NBA season, you'll need a TV service with at least ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV. We compare AT&T TV, YouTube TV, FuboTV and more to find out which service is the best for basketball fans.
Eli BlumenthalSenior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
Expertise5G, mobile networks, wireless carriers, phones, tablets, streaming devices, streaming platforms, mobile and console gaming,
An exciting NBA regular season reaches its end this weekend, but you don't need to be in the stands or have cable TV to watch the games live. For cord-cutters who want to save some money, your best bet is to subscribe to a live TV streaming service. But that's where things get confusing.
The sheer number of channels that carry live games -- local regional sports networks like the YES Network in New York and Spectrum SportsNet in LA, as well as the national feeds of ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT -- means you'll have to either get a relatively expensive service or make a compromise and miss some games every week. The only way to get a full basketball experience is to have a whole litany of channels from your TV provider.
While it's not as simple as it should be, we're going to try and make it a bit easier. Here are our recommendations for the best ways to watch the rest of the NBA season, as well as the play-in and playoffs, without cable.
When it comes to streaming all your local basketball games, the $85-a-month Choice package on AT&T TV is the best option for most people. It has all of the national channels -- ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT -- and it's the streaming service with the most regional sports networks.
Unlike the NFL, which largely broadcasts its local games on Fox or CBS (with primetime games on NBC, ESPN and the NFL Network) most NBA games air on a local sports network. For the Knicks in New York it's MSG, for the Lakers in Los Angeles it's Spectrum SportsNet and for the Bucks in Milwaukee it's Bally Sports Wisconsin (formerly Fox Sports). The problem is that your local RSN probably isn't carried by every live TV streaming service.
At $85 a month for the Choice package, AT&T TV is far from cheap, and for some it could be pricier than getting a traditional cable package bundled in with your home internet -- especially since, as with every such service, you'll need home internet to watch it anyway.
That said, it is another alternative that gives you a way to watch your home team's RSN. In the New York area it's the only provider that carries both MSG (Knicks) and the YES Network (Brooklyn Nets); in Los Angeles it has Spectrum Sportsnet for the Lakers and Bally Sports SoCal (formerly Fox Sports Prime Ticket) for the Clippers; and in Milwaukee it offers Bally Sports Wisconsin (Bucks).
AT&T TV also has some of the Comcast-owned RSNs, including (Celtics) and Bay Area (Warriors). You can check if your sports network is available in your ZIP code here.
Like with YouTube TV, FuboTV and others there is no contract required for AT&T TV, and you no longer need any special boxes or equipment. You can have streams running on up to three devices at once, with AT&T TV apps available on iOS, iPad OS and Android phones and tablets as well as Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Samsung Smart TVs. The telecom giant also sells an Android TV-powered streaming box.
AT&T includes 20 hours of DVR and bundles in a year of HBO Max with the purchase of the AT&T TV Choice package, the latter of which is normally $15 a month. As part of a promotion, the carrier is also currently throwing in a subscription to NBA League Pass Premium, the league's service that lets you watch all out-of-market games, for the remainder of the season as an added perk for those who sign up for its Choice or Ultimate packages.
If you want the free League Pass for the remainder of the season, you'll need to sign up before May 2.
Best for national games and playoffs: YouTube TV ($65)
The second-best option for NBA fans is YouTube TV. At $65 a month, a regular YouTube TV subscription checks many of the NBA channel boxes including having all of the major stations -- ABC, ESPN and TNT -- as well as NBA TV. The problem? It lacks most RSNs, though it does have the NBC Sports-owned ones in some areas.
The play-in games will air on TNT and ESPN while the NBA playoffs will air on those channels plus ABC.
YouTube TV allows three simultaneous streams, with YouTube offering unlimited cloud DVR. It's widely available, too, with apps on iOS and Android, the web and on TVs through Roku, Chromecast, Android TV, Apple TV and Fire TV.
Other options like FuboTV's Family plan or Hulu with Live TV are fine, but they involve compromises. Fubo has some regional networks like MSG in New York, but it lacks TNT and requires an $11-a-month Extra add-on to get NBA TV, making the total price $76 a month.
Hulu with Live TV, which now also costs $65 a month, similarly has some regional channels, particularly the NBC Sports-owned ones, as well as TNT, ESPN and ABC. But it lacks NBA TV and the regional sports channels owned by Charter (Spectrum Sportsnet) and Sinclair (the Bally Sports networks and YES Network).
Sling TV's Orange plan for $35 a month gets you ESPN and TNT, but you lose out on ABC and RSNs, and you'll need to pay an extra $15 a month to get NBA TV as part of its Sports Extra add-on. You do get 50 hours of DVR but can only stream on one device at a time.
The chart below sums it all up. The base price is listed after the service name, while a dollar sign indicates that the channel is available for an additional fee. For simplicity, we did not include the RSNs as those will vary by ZIP code.
NBA national channels on live TV services compared
Watch this: Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose the best one for you
What about NBA League Pass?
NBA League Pass offers the entire 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.
While this is an enticing option for fans who want to watch-out-of-market games for the 2020-21 season, it doesn't help with rooting for your home team. Local games as well as those broadcast nationally are blacked out, so if you're in New York and want to watch Kevin Durant and the Nets take on the Warriors on ABC it won't be accessible on League Pass.
With the 72-game regular season nearing its end, the league has dropped the price for the remainder of the season to $29 for the base package or $40 for the Premium service that allows for watching on two devices at once with the in-arena feeds. The Team Pass pricing has been reduced to $18. There are also new three-day free trials for the base League Pass package as well as the Team Pass option.
NBA TV remains a separate add-on but now runs an extra $20 (down from $60 at the start of the season) if you want to be able to watch games on that network.
With one weekend left in the regular season and playoff games on national television, you're likely best skipping this route and going with one of the above providers instead.