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 3-6

With the second half of the season having resumed, the focus now turns to the 2012 playoffs. The teams that are doing well, Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City and San Antonio will be determined to win and get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, while the rest of the league will look to extend their 2011-12 campaign by booking a spot in the playoffs. With a little over 50 days of the 2011-12 regular season left, the questions on everyone’s minds are will Oklahoma City end the season as the league’s best franchise? Will Portland manage to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs? Will Jeremy Lin guide the Knicks to a playoff spot from where they can make a genuine run at the 2012 Larry O’Brien trophy?

With all those questions to ponder over, here is a quick look at some of the marquee games to be played over the next few days beginning March 3:

March 3, 2012

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers:

When: March 3, 2012 – 9:00 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Sony Pix

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Regular season records: Sacramento Kings (12-22), Los Angeles Lakers (21-14)

Preview: In what may surprise many, the less-fancied Sacramento Kings actually stunned the L.A. Lakers, 100-91, in their earlier encounter of the season on December 26. The Lakers were woeful from 3-point land in that game (just 1-for-16). However, with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum playing far better than in that stumbling start to the season for the Lakers, Sacramento, the worst road team in the Western Conference at 4-17, should be at the receiving end of some retribution by Bryant and Co. in this game.

March 4, 2012

Oklahoma City Thunder v Atlanta Hawks:

When: March 4, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta

Regular season records: Oklahoma City Thunder (28-7), Atlanta Hawks (20-15)

Preview: Having gone 16-6 to start the season, the Hawks have stumbled in the month of February. In its 13 games last month, Atlanta lost nine of them, including four of its last five. While the Hawks were already weakened by the injury to center Al Horford in mid-January, injuries to Joe Johnson (recovered now) and backup Atlanta center, Jason Collins, have played a role in Atlanta’s slump. In that light, winning against the league’s best team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who rank third in the league in points scored per game (102.37), might prove a bit much for the Hawks.

New York Knicks v Boston Celtics:

When: March 4, 2012 – 11:30 PM (IST)

Where: TD Garden, Boston

Regular season records: New York Knicks (18-18), Boston (17-17)

Preview: The two previous regular season matches played between these two teams have been split, each going the way of the home team with the point differential between winning and losing being exactly two points in both games. However, both games were played in the pre-Linsanity era and now with Carmelo Anthony also making his return to the Knicks’ roster, Boston will have their hands full when they host New York in this game. But with all the trade rumours surrounding Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, expect the Cs to play hard before Danny Ainge breaks up this Celtic team for good.

March 5, 2012

Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers:

When: March 5, 2012 – 2:00 AM (IST)

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Regular season records: Miami Heat (27-7), Los Angeles Lakers (21-14)

Preview: Miami has been outstanding in the first half of the 2011-12 NBA regular season. The Heat are sitting pretty at the top of the Eastern Conference standings and are the only NBA team to have dropped less than six games on the road (12-5 currently). The Lakers, on the other hand, are an outstanding team at home, who boast a 15-2 record at the Staples Center. But just like their previous encounter on January 19, the Lakers might find the Heat’s 3-point shooting too much to handle. In that game, Miami went 9-18 (50 percent) from 3-point land compared to L.A.’s 6-for-20 (30 percent) 3-point shooting. That stat proved to be the difference between the two sides as Miami cruised to a 98-87 win. With LA still only shooting 30.2 percent from behind the 3-point line (currently second worst in the league), an encore of the Jan. 19 result is very much in the reckoning for the Heat. Also, expect this game to be a little chippy considering what happened between Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant in the All-Star Game.

March 6, 2012

New Orleans Hornets v Portland Trail Blazers:

When: March 6, 2012 – 8:30 AM (IST) -- Watch LIVE on NBA.com/india!

Where: Rose Garden, Portland

Regular season records: New Orleans Hornets (8-27), Portland Trail Blazers (18-17)

Preview: Portland is currently struggling to remain in playoff contention with at least three other teams (Denver, Minnesota and Utah) battling it out for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. With that perspective, the New Orleans Hornets, whom Portland has beaten in their previous two encounters, should provide easy pickings for the Trail Blazers and improve the playoff chances for this embattled franchise.

All stats and regular season standings are after games played on March 1, 2012 (IST)