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 31-April 1

It’s been all Kevin Love this past week in the NBA as the Minnesota forward logged performances of 51-14, 30-21, 28-11 and 40-19 on the scoring and rebounding fronts in the Timberwolves’ last four outings. My co-writer on this forum, Karan Madhok, put Love’s career in proper perspective in his latest blog while suggesting that Kevin could still get better.

Yet, despite all of Love’s heroics, Minnesota struggles to remain in playoff contention. No doubt they’ve been hampered by the season-ending injury to Ricky Rubio, but there’s only so much one player can do to influence the fortunes of a franchise. With that perspective, here’s hoping that ‘team’ gets precedence over ‘individual’ in the marquee matchups over the upcoming weekend:

March 31, 2012

New York Knicks v Atlanta Hawks:

When: March 31, 2012 – 5:00 AM (IST)

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta

Regular season records: New York Knicks (26-25), Atlanta Hawks (30-22)

Preview: The New York Knicks have been an impressive 8-of-9 in the Mike Woodson era. Despite the injuries to Amar’e Stoudemire (bulging disc) and Jeremy Lin (sore knee), they are playing with a sense of purpose and, most importantly, have dramatically improved on their defense. In their last game against Orlando, they forced 18 turnovers, which resulted in a 108-86 win for the Knicks. The Hawks, on the other hand, have lost their last two games and are in danger of conceding the sixth spot in the East to Boston, who, at 28-22, are snapping at their heels. New York had won (99-82) the first of the three-game regular season series between the two sides in February.

Dallas Mavericks v Orlando Magic:

When: March 31, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Sony Pix

Where: Amway Center, Orlando

Regular season records: Dallas Mavericks (29-22), Orlando Magic (32-19)

Preview: In as much as Orlando has been good at home (18-8), Dallas has fared disappointingly on the road (10-14) this season. Both teams have their weaknesses and rank among the bottom half of the league in terms of points scored per game. Dallas is without their defensive stopper, Tyson Chandler, this season, and are, hence, more vulnerable to a player of Dwight Howard’s size and presence. However, should Howard’s teammates fail to punish Dallas for double-teaming their All-Star center from three-point range, this could well be a good win for the Mavericks on the road.

April 1, 2012

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers:

When: April 1, 2012 – 1:00 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Regular season records: New Orleans Hornets (13-37), Los Angeles Lakers (31-19)

Preview: The last time these two teams clashed, on the 14th of March, the Lakers edged the Hornets by six points in a 107-101 win. The Lakers went 28-of-35 from the free-throw line in that game, while the Hornets were 10-of-13 from the stripe. Kobe Bryant, who scored a game-high 33 points, himself made more free throws (11) than the Hornets made as a team. Now, with Ramon Sessions forming part of the Laker artillery, expect Los Angeles to pound the bottom-placed Hornets by an even bigger margin.

Indiana Pacers v San Antonio Spurs:

When: April 1, 2012 – 6:00 AM (IST)

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio

Regular season records: Indiana Pacers (29-20), San Antonio Spurs (35-14)

Preview: The Pacers travel all the way to San Antonio in the only game of the 2011-12 regular season between the two teams. The Spurs are on a roll, having won six straight and are one of only four teams to have dropped less than five games at home this season. But the Pacers are no pushovers. They rank among the top 10 teams in the league in both three-point shooting (.371) and rebounds per game (43.41). Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker should, therefore, expect a tough contest as Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and David West come to town.

Chicago Bulls v Oklahoma City Thunder:

When: April 1, 2012 – 10:30 PM (IST)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City

Regular season records: Chicago Bulls (41-11), Oklahoma City Thunder (38-12)

Preview: Another possible 2012 NBA Finals preview after the clash between OKC and Miami last week. OKC was extremely impressive in the game against Miami as their big men, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, combined for 35 points in a 103-87 rout of the Heat. Chicago might be able to stand up to that challenge given the presence of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah in their ranks, but the continued absence of Derrick Rose might prove to be the difference between the two sides. Rip Hamilton, though, is expected to play for the Bulls, the shooting guard has resumed contact practice with his Chicago teammates after having missed 12 straight games with a shoulder sprain. This is a bit of a tough stretch for OKC as they play the Lakers, Chicago, Memphis, Miami and Indiana between March 30 and April 7.

All stats and regular season standings are after games played on March 29, 2012 (IST)