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!

Weekend at the Playoffs: May 12 - 14

A fascinating weekend lies in wait for NBA fans. The two franchises from Los Angeles are battling to stay alive in the Playoffs while the Eastern Conference semifinals are upon us. The Lakers are in a do-or-die situation against the Denver Nuggets while the Clippers must win at home otherwise they face the prospect of playing the Grizzlies in front of a raucous Memphis crowd in Game 7. Meanwhile, with all the first-round matchups having played themselves out in the East, it is time for four teams to take one step closer to the NBA Finals. Here’s a quick look at what’s in store for us over the next few days:

May 12, 2012

Memphis Grizzlies (4) v Los Angeles Clippers (5) – Game 6:
Conference: Western
When: May 12, 2012 – 6:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on SIX
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
Series Score: Clippers lead 3-2
Preview: Chris Paul has been the difference between the two teams in this fascinating contest. After escaping with an 87-86 win in Game 3 despite shooting an awful 13-for-30 from the free-throw line, the Clippers surged to an OT win in Game 4 thanks to Paul’s herculean effort of 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. However, the Grizzlies went back to doing what they do best in Game 5, which is playing from the post. The Grizzlies’ big men, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, combined for 42 points and 17 rebounds as the Clippers simply had no answer for them. More of the same from Randolph and Gasol should help the Grizzlies become just the ninth team in NBA playoff history to come back from a 1-3 deficit and win the seven-game series. The other worrying thing for the Clippers is the status of Blake Griffin and Paul for Game 6 since both players were injured during Game 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (3) v Denver Nuggets (6) – Game 7:
Conference: Western
When: May 13, 2012 – 8:00 AM (IST)
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
Series Score: Series tied 3-3
Preview: Barring Charles Barkley, not many thought the Lakers would be stretched all the way to a Game 7. In fact, Barkley predicted an upset before this series started and stuck to his stand even when the Nuggets were down 1-3 in the series. The Lakers are hurt mostly by the absence of Pau Gasol who is a ridiculous 29-for-70 from the field and is averaging less than 12 points a game. Andrew Bynum, too, is not hitting the same high standards he set for himself in the second half of the regular season and is allowing Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee to do pretty much what they want in the paint. A peeved Kobe Bryant, who has singularly kept the Lakers in this matchup, even called both players out following the rout in Game 6. However, the Nuggets will have two things going against them as they head to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for an emotionally-charged Game 7. First, their roster lacks the Playoff experience the Lakers have had in recent years. Secondly, L.A. will also be boosted by the return of Metta World Peace, who served his seven-game suspension following his elbow to James Harden at the end of the regular season, for this game.


Series look ahead: Eastern Conference Semi-Finals:

Boston Celtics (4) v Philadelphia 76ers (8)
Game 1: May 13, 2012 @ Boston – 5:30 AM (IST)
Series schedule: Game 2 @ Boston, Game 3 @ Philadelphia, Game 4 @ Philadelphia. Games 5, 6 and 7 - only if necessary.
Home Court Advantage: Boston Celtics [TD Garden]. Philadelphia to host Boston at Wells Fargo Center
Regular season series: Philadelphia beat Boston, 2-1

2012 Playoffs Leader board:
Points: Boston – Paul Pierce (21.2); Philadelphia – Jrue Holiday (18.2)
Rebounds: Boston – Kevin Garnett (10.50); Philadelphia – Spencer Hawes (8.00)
Assists: Boston – Rajon Rondo (11.8); Philadelphia – Jrue Holiday (4.7)

How they got here:
First-round - Boston beat Atlanta Hawks 4-2; Philadelphia beat Chicago Bulls 4-2

Preview: The biggest concern for the Celtics heading into this series is Paul Pierce’s sprained MCL and Ray Allen’s bone spurs. And while Pierce was still able to step up and play big against the Hawks, Allen’s 5-for-18 shooting from 3-point range is certainly a worry for the Cs. Philly, on the other hand, have no real injury worries and will look to Jrue Holiday, Louis Williams and Andre Iguodala to drive their balanced offense. Also, although the Celtics are a good transition defense team (compromise on offensive rebounding), the 76ers must look to push the ball up the floor if they hope to beat Boston’s half-court defense.

Numbers Game: 82.17 PPG – That’s how much Boston allowed Atlanta to score on an average in their six-game series in the first round of the 2012 Playoffs. That is the lowest PPG allowed by any team to its opponent in the 2012 postseason.

Akshay’s Take: Not only do Boston have the bigger names and the home-court advantage, they are also the better jump-shooting team compared to Philly. Garnett, after his performance against the Hawks, should be a handful for Spencer Hawes, and Rondo will certainly give Holiday enough of a task with his ability to come up with passes from nowhere. In the end, Boston’s experience should triumph over the 76ers and the Celtics should go through in six.

Miami Heat (2) v Indiana Pacers (3)
Game 1: May 14, 2012 @ Miami – 1:00 AM (IST)
Series schedule: Game 2 @ Miami, Game 3 @ Indiana, Game 4 @ Indiana. Games 5, 6 and 7 - only if necessary.
Home Court Advantage: Miami Heat [American Airlines Arena]. Indiana to host Miami at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.
Regular season series: Miami beat Indiana, 3-1

2012 Playoffs Leader board:
Points: Miami – LeBron James (27.8); Indiana – Danny Granger (21.4)
Rebounds: Miami – Chris Bosh (7.20); Indiana – Roy Hibbert (10.80)
Assists: Miami – LeBron James (5.6); Indiana – Darren Collison (4.6)

How they got here:
First-round - Miami beat New York Knicks 4-1; Indiana beat Orlando Magic 4-1

Preview: Both teams came off fairly comprehensive wins against their respective opponents in the first round. However, that similarity apart, there is very little in common between these two teams. Miami is a team of three superstars while Indiana is a more well-rounded outfit with more depth in their roster. Indiana is a far better rebounding team than Miami (43.88 RPG to 41.61 RPG in the regular season) while the latter fare better in the steals-per-game category against the former (8.86 to 7.92). The Pacers finished sixth in 3-point accuracy, while the Heat allowed the fifth-highest 3-point percentage this season. The Heat are at their best when they push the ball up the floor with LeBron and Wade leading the pack, while Indiana play a more inside-outside game in the half court.

Numbers Game: 40.4 percent – That’s how much Miami kept Indiana down to cumulatively in the field-goal category when the two sides met on four occasions in the regular season.

Akshay’s Take: Indiana were one of only four teams to finish in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. With Roy Hibbert at center, the Heat are also short-sized at the same position thereby conceding a sizeable advantage to the Pacers. The same holds true at the point-guard spot where George Hill and Darren Collison are better placed vis-ŕ-vis Mario Chalmers. However, no matter what Paul George, Danny Granger and David West do at the 2, 3 and 4 spots they are no match for Bosh, LeBron and Wade. Also, the Heat’s suffocating defense, which restricted Indiana to below 90 points on an average in the four regular season games will be difficult for the Pacers to contend with. The Heat to win in six.

All stats are after games played on May 11, 2012 (IST)