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NBA Playoff Schedule 2011: Key Subplots and Info for Every Game This Weekend

Peter HillCorrespondent IIApril 15, 2011

NBA Playoff Schedule 2011: Key Subplots and Info for Every Game This Weekend

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Now that the playoff bracket is officially set, it's time to break it down. There are eight games this weekend, and each one has its own share of storylines and excitement.

    Action starts with the Bulls-Pacers on Saturday afternoon and ends with the Nuggets-Thunder late Sunday night, with plenty of great playoff basketball sandwiched between the two matchups.

    This year's playoffs can easily be touted as the most exciting in recent memory, and they haven't even started yet. Without a doubt, there is no clear-cut favorite to advance deep in the playoffs. Previous seasons had obvious teams that would be there in the end, notably the Celtics and Lakers.

    Let's get this playoff party started. Here are the top subplots and storylines for every game this weekend.

Pacers at Bulls: Can the Pacers Slow Down Derrick Rose?

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    For any Pacers' fan, the thought of even getting in Derrick Rose's way is scary. Rose is strong, quick, athletic, fast and can beat any defender off the dribble.

    When you consider who will guard Rose, it gets even more frightening. The slender-framed Darren Collison will have to guard him, causing even more concern.

    Collison measures in at 6'0", 160 pounds. Rose will easily dominate Collison because of the 3 inches and 30 pounds he has on him.

    Sorry Pacers' fans, but you should be excited if you win even one game in this series.

76ers at Heat: Will the Heat Live Up to the Preseason Hype Versus a Smart Team?

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Everyone knows the story.

    This past summer, Pat Riley was able to swindle the biggest free-agent class in NBA history. By reeling in LeBron James, Chris Bosh and re-signing Dwyane Wade, Riley put together what was believed to be an unstoppable force.

    However, the Heat have been extremely streaky this year. After getting off to a rocky start, Miami finally found its groove, dominating every team in its way.

    Then, the Heat cooled off, causing Erik Spoelstra to admit players were crying in the locker room after a game.

    Now, the Heat seem to be "re-heating," so to speak. They have won seven of their last eight and 12 of their previous 14.

    When the Heat are on fire, few teams can stop them.

    One team capable of accomplishing that feat is the Doug Collins-led 76ers. They play smart, team-oriented basketball.

    Expect a good first series out of the 76ers and Heat.

Hawks at Magic: What Can Atlanta Do to End Their Embarassing Losing Streak?

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The one team struggling the most heading into the playoffs is the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have lost six in a row, including losses to Washington and Charlotte over that span.

    For a team loaded with All Star-caliber players, the Hawks sure don't play like it. Veterans like Kirk Hinrich, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford have no business dropping games right before the postseason.

    A lot of the recent blame has been placed on first-year head coach Larry Drew. Drew's style of coaching has not exactly meshed with the Hawks, evidenced by a worse record than the last two years.

    If Atlanta does not get it together soon, Dwight Howard and the Magic will absolutely dominate them. It could also result in Atlanta looking for a new head coach after the first round.

Trail Blazers at Mavericks: Can Portland Ever Get out of the First Round?

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Nate McMillan is now in his sixth year with Portland. He has been to the playoffs the past two years and lost in the first round both times.

    With all the talent Portland has had lately, it's hard to believe they haven't made it out of the first round. This year, Portland made a decisive move to bolster their roster.

    Before the trade deadline, the Blazers dealt for combo forward Gerald Wallace from Charlotte. Wallace brings the toughness, aggressiveness, tenacity and overall presence to the Blazers they have been looking for.

    However, the Blazers have a first-round matchup with a team that is probably more hungry than them. Portland will square off against Dirk and the Mavericks in the first round, effectively making the monkey on McMillan's back that much bigger.

Grizzlies at Spurs: Can Memphis Take Advantage of the Banged-Up Spurs?

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    After getting off to a blazing start to begin the year, the San Antonio Spurs have cooled off in a big way. Just a couple weeks ago, Spurs fans, coaches and players held their collective breath as Tim Duncan went down with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury.

    In the season finale against Phoenix, shooting guard Manu Ginobili hyper-extended his elbow in the first quarter. Ginobili quickly got an MRI that turned up negative, but missing game time is a serious possibility.

    Memphis has always had the talent, and now it's their time to shock the world. Studs like Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley have to step up to lead the Grizzlies if they plan on doing anything relevant.

    Even though the Grizzlies are the eighth seed, don't count them out, especially with San Antonio's injury concerns.

Hornets at Lakers: Will Andrew Bynum Be Healthy Enough to Be Effective?

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers had a 7-foot scare the other night. Andrew Bynum's knee buckled after stepping on another player's foot, leaving him in pain on the floor for several minutes.

    After walking to the locker room and getting an MRI, it was determined he just hyper-extended his knee and will be fine. However, the oft-injured Bynum is not completely out of the woods. Although he has played through knee injuries in the playoffs before, he likely won't be able to dominate like he has the last few weeks.

    If Bynum is forced to miss any games, the Hornets will be extremely lucky. They don't have a chance of matching against the height of Pau Gasol and Bynum together.

    Keep a close eye on Bynum this weekend, especially his knee.

Knicks at Celtics: Will Carmelo and Amar'e Surprise the Celtics in Round 1?

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    After pulling off a blockbuster deal to land Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, the New York Knicks are certainly in contention with the best teams in the East.

    This series matches up strength against strength. Both teams lack a legitimate center at this point, which means they will both play small and fast.

    The key matchups will be Kevin Garnett versus Amar'e Stoudemire, Paul Pierce versus Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo versus Chauncey Billups.

    This game was placed on Sunday-night primetime for a reason. Watch out world—this series could easily be the most exciting, and it all starts this weekend.

Nuggets at Thunder: Can Kevin Durant and Company Build on Last Year's Success?

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Last year, the eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Lakers a little more than they expected. The Thunder brought the series to six games and nearly made history by stealing a few more wins.

    Now that the Thunder are a year older more experienced, it's time to figure out what these young studs learned from last year.

    For the Thunder, it all starts with All-World small forward Kevin Durant. Durant is effective, quick, tall and can score in every way imaginable.

    However, the Durant and company's opposition is extremely balanced. After trading away 'Melo, the Nuggets received ample amounts of quality talent in return. Players like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov will all play serious minutes in this series.

    This game will be a straight-up scoring fest. Both teams are in the top tier of the league in scoring and it will surely show on Sunday night.

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