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: April 21-23

Thirteen of the possible 16 playoff spots have been locked up for the 2012 postseason. Eight of those 13 teams will be seen in action on the weekend with the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks battling it out in the lead up to the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets, currently placed at seventh position in the Western Conference, will also be looking to cement a spot beyond the 2011-12 regular season. With that perspective in mind, here is a quick look at the marquee games headed our way over the upcoming weekend:

April 21, 2012

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs:
When: April 21, 2012 – 7:00 AM (IST)
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio
Regular season records: Los Angeles Lakers (40-23), San Antonio Spurs (45-16)
Preview: Two of the top three teams in the Western Conference battle it out for one final time in the 2011-12 regular season. The Lakers’ outrebounded the Spurs 60-33 to win the 98-84 on April 11 and the Spurs shot 59.5 percent from the floor in a 112-91 win on April 17 to square the regular season series 1-1. However, with Kobe Bryant yet to return to the Lakers’ lineup, the advantage is very much with the Spurs, who are also an incredible 25-5 at home.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Sacramento Kings:
When: April 21, 2012 – 7:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on SIX
Where: Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento CA
Regular season records: Oklahoma City Thunder (45-17), Sacramento Kings (20-42)
Preview: OKC couldn’t have had it better. They are half a game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference standings and would like to secure the pole position heading in to the playoffs. With that perspective, playing the second worst team in the Western Conference twice in a period of four days, beginning with this game, is exactly what Oklahoma fans may have wanted for their team. That said, Sacramento had beaten the Thunder 106-101 at the Power Balance Pavilion in February and so an encore is not entirely impossible.

April 22, 2012

Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls:
When: April 22, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports
Where: United Center, Chicago
Regular season records: Dallas Mavericks (35-28), Chicago Bulls (47-16)
Preview: Although both teams are guaranteed playoff spots in the 2012 postseason, there is much to play for in this solitary regular season meeting between the two sides. Miami are snapping at Chicago’s heels for the No.1 spot in the Eastern Conference standings and are currently on a five-game winning streak. Should Chicago, who are 5-5 in their last 10 games, lose any more of their last three games, they could possibly surrender the top spot to Miami. Dallas, on the other hand, are just half-a-game ahead of Denver for the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings. Should Dallas drop to No. 7 or No. 8, it would mean the unpleasant prospect of facing up with either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

New York Knicks v Atlanta Hawks:
When: April 22, 2012 – 10:30 PM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on SIX
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta
Regular season records: New York Knicks (33-29), Atlanta Hawks (37-25)
Preview: With the Milwaukee Bucks having lost to the Indiana Pacers this morning, the New York Knicks have made it to the 2012 Playoffs. However, it would be in the Knicks’ interest to finish the regular season strongly and win their last four games so that there is a possible chance of avoiding the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Atlanta, though, are no pushovers. They are the fifth best team in the Eastern Conference and beat the Knicks as recently as March 30 in a 100-90 win at the Philips Arena in Atlanta.

April 23, 2012

Orlando Magic v Denver Nuggets:
When: April 23, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on SIX
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver
Regular season records: Orlando Magic (36-26), Denver Nuggets (34-28)
Preview: Both teams have problems. The Magic may have locked up a playoff spot, but with news of Dwight Howard’s back surgery bringing an end to the All-Star center’s season, the mood would be pretty somber in Orlando right now. Without Dwight, the Magic have little chance of going past their first-round opponents, the Indiana Pacers, if the playoffs were to begin today. Denver, meanwhile, are still looking to lock up a playoff spot and with three of their last four games away from home, a matchup against the Magic at the Pepsi Center is the least that they could have asked for. Denver leads the two-game regular season series 1-0.

All stats and regular season standings are after games played on April 19, 2012 (IST)