Basketball without cable: A cord-cutter’s guide to the NBA

The NBA season starts tonight and with it a bucket of new storylines to for hoopheads to follow. Can Lebron deliver the Lakers to their first playoff berth in five years? Will the Celtics or the Sixers be the new Beasts of the East? And can anyone stop the Warriors from a three-peat?

Despite sports media’s love for speculation, the answers can only be found by watching the games. And that can be tough to do if you’re a cord cutter. As with baseball, televised basketball has become a primarily cable-only affair. This season, the bulk of nationally televised games will be aired on the league’s own cable and satellite network, NBA TV, with the rest split among ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, and ABC. If you’re a “big game” hunter, there are a few ways to catch these broadcasts without a cable-TV subscription.

Updated October 15, 2018 to reflect the the 2018-19 NBA season.

The outlook is grimmer if you’re mainly interested in following your local team through the season. Most teams’ regular-season games are carried by regional cable sports networks like Fox Sports and NBC Sports, which are inaccessible online without TV Everywhere credentials. A few teams can still be found on over-the-air channels—the Chicago Bulls on the windy city’s WGN, for one—but that arrangement is rapidly going the way of the two-handed set shot.

Over the air

The good news is you can access ABC for free if you have an over-the-air TV antenna and are within the radius of a local ABC affiliate. The bad news is the network only broadcasts 18 of this year’s nationally televised games. These, however, include some of the league’s marquee matchups, including a Christmas Day match-up between the reigning NBA-champion Warriors and LeBron’s Lakers. ABC also carries portions of the postseason, including all of the NBA championship series.

mohu releaf Mohu

An indoor digital TV antenna, like this model from Mohu, is all you need to watch in-market NFL games (outdoor models will work as well).

You can watch the remaining games with some combination of the following services.

Sling TV

The easiest way to catch many of the cable telecasts is with the Sling TV streaming service, but you’ll need to pony up for a monthly subscription. For $25 per month, Sling’s Orange package will get you ESPN, ESPN2, and TNT. With a digital antenna to catch the ABC broadcasts, that leaves only the NBA TV games to account for.

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PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue offers channel packages similar to those of Sling TV, but also includes live feeds from the major networks—including ABC—in select markets. If you’re fortunate enough to live in one, you can buy the Access channel bundle, which includes ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and TNT for $45 a month. You can also use your PlayStation Vue credentials to sign in to TV Everywhere apps such as Fox Sports Go and NBC Sports to catch your regional broadcasts at no extra charge. To see which Vue Access package is available in your area, enter your zip code on the website.

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