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 24-27

After all the drama that unfolded at the trade deadline on March 15, the focus was back on winning and losing this week. Yes, surely, the league’s landscape is partially altered with Derek Fisher now playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Nene having moved on to the Washington Wizards. But it could have been a lot more different had Dwight Howard opted to move on from Orlando in a trade that would have had a significant domino effect on the entire league.

Now, with a little over a month left before the 2011-12 regular season ends, teams are only concerned with making the playoffs. No more trade talk, no more speculating which player can give which team’s fortunes a fillip – the only thing that matters between today and April 26 is what teams must do to get into the 2012 postseason. With that viewpoint, here’s a look at some of the key clashes over the next few days:

March 24, 2012

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers:

When: March 24, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST)

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

Regular season records: Boston Celtics (24-21), Philadelphia 76ers (26-21)

Preview: The last of an eight-game road trip for the Boston Celtics where they have gone 3-3 (they play Milwaukee before this game on Friday morning at 5:30 am IST -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports) thus far. That is certainly an impressive performance by this veteran team if you consider the absence of centers Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox (both out of the season due to heath problems). Philadelphia, on the other hand, has gone on a downward spiral in the last couple of months. Having ended January a 15-6 team, the 76ers have gone 11-15 in the last couple of months. That dip in form should give Boston the confidence to square the three-game regular season series after Philadelphia humbled them, 103-71, earlier in the month.

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs:

When: March 24, 2012 – 6:00 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Sony Pix

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio

Regular season records: Dallas Mavericks (27-21), San Antonio Spurs (30-14)

Preview: If you saw the San Antonio Spurs beat the Oklahoma City Thunder at the end of last week, you would know that this Spurs outfit is very different from the one that was ousted in the first round of the 2011 Playoffs despite being the No. 1 seed. They are a genuine championship contender not just because they have the big names, but they have considerable depth in their roster with the likes of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. The addition of Stephen Jackson before the trade deadline has given them even more firepower. However, the Spurs have had their problems against Dallas, whom they trail 2-1 in the four-game regular season series. A close look at the head-to-head stats between the two teams shows that Dallas has simply outrebounded San Antonio in those three previous meetings. Also, Dallas is shooting a much better 15-of-33 (46 percent) from inside the paint versus the Spurs as opposed to San Antonio which is shooting just 17-of-50 (34 percent) from the same area against the Mavs. A gripping clash nevertheless.

March 25, 2012

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Clippers:

When: March 25, 2012 – 12:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Regular season records: Memphis Grizzlies (25-19), Los Angeles Clippers (26-20)

Preview: It seems like a long time ago when the LA Clippers beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 98-91, on Jan. 26. Since then, Zach Randolph has made his return to the Grizzlies roster (last week) while Chauncey Billups is no longer available to the Clippers this season (injury). Memphis has gone 14-9 in February and March after an 11-10 start to the season, while the Clippers have been 14-14 since the beginning of February. The Grizzlies are the number one team in the league when it comes to steals-per-game (10.09). The more important question, however, is whether Memphis, which is just 9-12 away from home, can manage to steal one on the road?

March 26, 2012

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder:

When: March 26, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City

Regular season records: Miami Heat (34-11), Oklahoma City Thunder (35-12)

Preview: A mouth-watering clash considering most believe that these two teams will eventually battle it out in the 2012 NBA finals. Both teams rank among the top four in points scored per game while they are also the top two teams in terms of field-goal percentage. However, both teams have their shortcomings as well. No team turns the ball over more than Oklahoma (16.64 TOs-per-game) while Miami’s weaknesses at the point-guard and center position are well known. All of which, perhaps, makes this the matchup of the 2011-12 season.

March 27, 2012

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Clippers:

When: March 27, 2012 – 8:00 AM (IST) -- Watch LIVE on NBA.com/india!

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Regular season records: New Orleans Hornets (11-35), Los Angeles Clippers (26-20)

Preview: It’s been a difficult season if you are a Hornets’ fan. First, your star player, Chris Paul, gets dealt before the start of the 11-12 campaign and then, you slump to the bottom of the Western Conference Standings. To make matters worse, the Hornets compounded their own, hapless situation by not finding a worthy suitor for Chris Kaman before the trade deadline to bring in more draft picks and/or expiring contracts. As NBA.com’s David Aldridge put it, “Now Kaman will surely walk or be bought out before the end of the season, leaving New Orleans with one less asset from the Chris Paul trade.” Anyhow, this is the second of three regular-season meetings between CP3’s past and present teams.

All stats and regular season standings are after games played on March 22, 2012 (IST)