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NBA Saturday: Top Storylines in the Playoffs

With the 2013-14 NBA postseason set to begin this weekend, we take a look at the top storylines in each series so that you know what to watch for!

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The 2013-14 NBA Playoffs get underway today with four games, two in each conference. By the end of the weekend Game 1 in every series will be in the books, and in preparation for the start of the second season we take a look at the stop storyline in each series:

Will youth or experience prove to be more important in Brooklyn Nets-Toronto Raptors series?

The suggestion that these two teams would be facing off in the postseason with the Raptors serving as the Atlantic Division champions would have been flat out laughable in the preseason. It would have been ever more hilarious after the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay, but this young team has proven to be far ahead of schedule. Thanks to the emergence of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as one of the best backcourt duos in the league the Raptors are coming into the playoffs looking to make some noise and they have a bit of a chip on their shoulder as well. That chip is not only a byproduct of all their previous doubters, but the Nets backed their way into the postseason – in the eyes of some they did so intentionally in order to avoid the Chicago Bulls.

We’ll know in relative short order whether that was a good decision. It’s certainly understandable for the Nets to feel like they have more of an advantage over the young Raptors, who sorely lack postseason experience collectively whereas they are stockpiled with it. These two teams split the regular season series 2-2; this is one of the tougher first round matchups to call.

Will the Indiana Pacers regain their championship form against the Atlanta Hawks?

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the second half of the season was how bad the Pacers struggled. They were one of the best teams in the league early, starting off 33-7, but they finished 23-19. During that stretch, their coaching staff and chemistry have come into question. Luckily for the Pacers, the Miami HEAT weren’t able to catch them. They held onto the top spot in the East and drew the Hawks, who come in without their best player in Al Horford and the worst record of any playoff team at 38-44. This series holds the potential to be a real confidence booster for the Pacers. They should be able to handle the Hawks with relative ease, especially if Roy Hibbert gets back to playing like an All-Star center. If the Hawks give them trouble then something that may not be fixable in season is clearly wrong.

No Derrick Rose still no problem for the Bulls?

If there’s one thing the Bulls have grown accustomed to over the last two years, it’s playing without Derrick Rose, their star point guard and a former Most Valuable Player winner. He was plagued by a knee injury once again, but the Bulls aren’t going through the same song and dance they did last season where all this hope was built up that he would return. They have definitively ruled him out for the entire postseason; there won’t be any distraction or questions about Rose this time around. All the Bulls have to do is focus on the Washington Wizards, who are led by a young All-Star point guard of their own in John Wall. The Wizards are a young team experiencing their first playoff run together. They’ll be relying heavily on Trevor Ariza, Andre Miller and Nene to provide veteran leadership against a Bulls team that they went 2-1 against in the regular season, but lost most recently to. Nene will be especially key against Joakim Noah, who has become the catalyst for the Bulls in Rose’s absence. Whichever team can control the tempo will win this series.

Will Al Jefferson’s star shine as bright as Miami’s Big Three?

Jefferson, who was named the Eastern Conference Player of the month for the second straight month on Friday, has led the Bobcats to the playoffs for just the second time in their franchise’s history. He was the most dominant low post scorer in the league this year, putting up 21.8 points on 50 percent shooting from the field a night while also grabbing 10.8 rebounds. They’re going up against the two time defending champions in the Miami HEAT, though, a team with no shortage of star power. This is really where the tale of the Bobcats’ season will be written. The Eastern Conference was awful this year. Making the playoffs is a nice step forward, but if they can give the HEAT a bit of trouble, it will really increase optimism moving forward. Just as it did all season long, it all starts with Jefferson. The HEAT’s biggest weakness is at the center position. If Jefferson is owning the interior and Kemba Walker can outplay Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at the point they could, at the very least, get their first win or two in the playoffs.

Will Russell Westbrook make the difference in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s rematch against the Memphis Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies upset the Thunder in the second round of last year’s playoffs, but of course that was without Westbrook, who was injured in the first round against the Houston Rockets. This year they’re taking on the Thunder at full strength with their star point guard back and ready to make up for lost time. Westbrook finished the regular season out on a tear, averaging 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists in April. Mike Conley, who had a strong series against the Thunder last year, is going to have his hands full trying to hold him. Westbrook has often been made the scapegoat for the Thunder’s shortcomings, but this is his opportunity to show just how important he is in their quest for a championship.

How much will the Golden State Warriors miss Andrew Bogut against the Los Angeles Clippers?

The Warriors knew they were taking a risk with their investment in Bogut, who has a long history of injury issues. Unfortunately, those injury woes have come back to the forefront again as a rib issue is likely going to keep him out for the playoffs, definitely the first round, at least. It’s never easy to lose a player with the size and talent of Bogut, especially when you’re matched up against a team with an interior duo like the one the Clippers have. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin were going to be difficult to contain with Bogut; without him it could be an impossible task. Still, the Warriors have too much fire power to ever count out. They’ll be able to play at a faster pace without him, but will they be able to rebound and limit points in the paint are the bigger concerns.

How bad are the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers going to beat each other up?

This series is more comparable to a boxing heavyweight championship fight than your typical NBA series as it holds the potential to be quite physical and bruising. Both of these teams rely heavily on their interior play as they feature two of the best in Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge. They’re both dominant in very different ways. We probably won’t see them matched up against each other much, which is a good thing because they’d probably keep each other on the bench in foul trouble. The best head-to-head matchup is going to be at the point guard between Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard. The two have been exchanging barbs in the media and anytime Beverley is involved you know it’s going to be scrappy.

Will longtime rivals bring add another thrilling chapter to their history?

The Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs are no strangers to each other in the postseason, facing off in the playoffs for the sixth time since 2001. There are some different faces on both sides, but it won’t take long for this rivalry to pick right up where it left off since they last went head-to-head in 2010. The Spurs hold the advantage at 3-2 all-time and come in as the heavy favorites. However, the Spurs have a way of bringing out the best in Dirk Nowitzki, who is surrounded this year with some serious firepower in the backcourt with Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. Everyone is expecting the Spurs to continue their dominance, but the Mavericks won’t lay down and be an easy first round matchup by any stretch of the imagination.

What storylines intrigue you the most? Leave your thoughts below!

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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