Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early ’90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

Marquee Matchups: March 17-20

It’s been a crazy last week with all the hype, hoopla, buzz and may I say circus surrounding possible trades before the deadline expires. First Dwight Howard wanted to go, then he asked for Orlando to roll the dice and take a chance on him and now no one quite knows what the Magic are going to do with their star center. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors made the loudest splash in the player market while Boston has sat tight after all the initial speculation surrounding the dismantling of their veteran core.

With many more scenarios still to play out before the deadline ends in a few hours, here is a look at the big games coming our way over the next few days:

March 17, 2012

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder:

When: March 17, 2012 – 7:00 AM (IST)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City

Regular season records: San Antonio Spurs (28-13), Oklahoma City Thunder (32-10)

Preview: Possible Western Conference finalists meet for the three-game regular season series decider in Oklahoma City with both the earlier matchups having been won by the home team. OKC has enjoyed the better field-goal percentage (48.7 versus SA’s 41.9) in those two games, but the Spurs have been the better 3-point shooting team (54.3 percent versus 35 percent). But with the teams battling it out one final time before a possible 2012 playoffs encounter, expect Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to step up and stamp their superiority over the old guard of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers:

When: March 17, 2012 – 8:00 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Sony Pix

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Regular season records: Minnesota Timberwolves (22-21), Los Angeles Lakers (27-16)

Preview: Although the Lakers are already 3-0 ahead in the four-game regular season meetings, the last game played between the two sides on March 9 this past week was an edge-of-the-seat affair. However, with Kevin Love out of that contest, Kobe Bryant scored 34 points and the Lakers held their nerve to beat the Timberwolves, 105-102. But now with star point-guard Ricky Rubio out for the season with a torn ACL, it will be nearly impossible for Minnesota to stop the Lakers from registering their 19th consecutive win against the Timberwolves.

March 18, 2012

New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers:

When: March 18, 2012 – 4:30 AM (IST)

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Regular season records: New York Knicks (19-24), Indiana Pacers (25-16)

Preview: The second of back-to-back games between the two teams with the first one being played a day before this game in New York. The Knicks are on the brink of disaster with head coach Mike D’Antoni having resigned after New York lost six straight games between March 4 and March 12. They may have stepped up with a 121-79 win against Portland in their latest outing, but with a team that ranks the fifth worst in 3-point shooting (.319 percent), is second in turnovers per game and has plenty of chemistry issues, the Knicks clearly have challenges ahead of them if they wish to qualify for the 2012 playoffs. A commanding win against Indiana on the road would be a good place to correct some of those problems.

San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks:

When: March 18, 2012 – 6:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas

Regular season records: San Antonio Spurs (28-13), Dallas Mavericks (24-20)

Preview: Dallas has been a team in a funk since its 104-97 loss to the New York Knicks on February 19. Since then, the Mavericks have gone 4-8 to slump to 24-20 in the regular season standings. A cursory look at the roster’s stats over the last 10 games will show which players have played better/worse in this period. Injury to back-up guard, Delonte West (dislocated right ring finger), is also not helping matters. However, with San Antonio making the trip to Dallas for this encounter, the Mavericks would have their best chance to defend a reasonably good record at home (16-7) against a Spurs franchise that haven’t looked completely in control on the road (11-9). The four-game regular season series stands at 1-1.

March 20, 2012

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors:

When: March 20, 2012 – 8:00 AM (IST) -- Watch LIVE on NBA.com/india!

Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland

Regular season records: Minnesota Timberwolves (22-21), Golden State Warriors (18-22)

Preview: Golden State is a team in flux with Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson set to join them after the Warriors agreed to a trade with Milwaukee which would send guard Monta Ellis, forward Ekpe Udoh and center Kwame Brown to the Bucks. The trade signals the desperation in Golden State, a team that has fared only marginally better in 2011-2012, when new head coach Mark Jackson took over the franchise, as compared to their 2010-11 standings (36-46). Bogut is arguably one of the best big men in the league, but given that he hasn’t played since late January, owing to a fracture in his left ankle, this game balances out well with the Timberwolves missing Ricky Rubio. This is the first of three regular season meetings between the two teams that will take place between March 20 and the end of the season on April 26.

All stats and regular season standings are after games played on March 15, 2012 (IST)