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 Watchers - Feb. 3-5

- Akshay Manwani / @akshaymanwani

The first weekend of February sees the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks, the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder in action. Also, the Los Angeles Lakers travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz.

Here then, is a closer look at these exciting contests to be played over the next few days:

February 3, 2012

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Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks:
When: February 3, 2012 – 6:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
Regular season records: Chicago Bulls (18-6), New York Knicks (8-13)
Preview: This may have resembled a contest filled with the edge of the Bulls-Knicks rivalry from the early 90s had the Knicks not fared so poorly over their last 10 games (2-8). With a team boasting two terrific scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks are struggling offensively. Anthony has been guilty of taking far too many shots, a reflection of which is seen in Stoudemire’s 17.6 PPG this season as against 25.3 PPG from the 2010-11 campaign. Meanwhile, the Bulls who were 16-3 till about 10 days ago, and owned the league’s best record, have stumbled to three defeats in their last five outings. But with the Knicks struggling, and the Bulls still being one of the best defensive teams in the league, there is no reason why Chicago can’t get back to its consistent, winning ways.

February 4, 2012

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Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers:
When: February 4, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST)
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
Regular season records: Miami Heat (16-6), Philadelphia 76ers (16-6)
Preview: Not only has Philadelphia surprised many by owning the second best record in the Eastern Conference, they have beaten the Bulls and the Orlando Magic in their last two outings to prove they are a genuine Championship contender. However, the last time these two teams met, Miami subjected the 76ers to their biggest loss of the season in a 21-point, 113-92 drubbing. But that game was played on Miami’s home court. Now, with the Heat travelling to Philadelphia, the 76ers have a good chance to square the four-game regular season series.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder:
When: February 4, 2012 – 6:30 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Sony Pix
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
Regular season records: Memphis Grizzlies (11-10), Oklahoma City Thunder (17-4)
Preview: The OKC Thunder have gone from good to terrific this season. Not only do they currently own the league’s best record, but rank only behind Denver and Miami in scoring 100 plus points per game this season. Also, in Kevin Durant (26.6 PPG) and Russell Westbrook (21.9), the Thunder have the second best two-man scoring pair in the league. The Grizzlies, having lost Zach Randolph to injury for a couple of months earlier in the season, are coming off a difficult five-game sequence that saw them lose four straight before clinching a win against Denver in overtime. Their game against Oklahoma City gives them little respite as it comes bang in the middle of a three-game sequence on the road that sees Memphis travel to Atlanta (Feb 3) and Boston (Feb 6) as well.

February 5, 2012

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Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs:
When: February 5, 2012 – 7:00 AM (IST) -- Watch it LIVE on Ten Sports
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio
Regular season records: Oklahoma City Thunder (17-4), San Antonio Spurs (14-9)
Preview: Having gone 9-4 to start the season, the San Antonio Spurs have stumbled to 5-5 in their last 10 outings. What would have hurt coach Gregg Popovich is that the Spurs lost three of those five games by a margin of three points or less. However, it is imperative that the Spurs put those defeats behind them and maintain their splendid showing at home (11-1) against the Thunder, because after hosting Oklahoma City, San Antonio play nine straight on the road, which could well determine where they stand at the end of the regular season.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Utah Jazz:
When: February 5, 2012 – 7:30 AM (IST)
Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
Regular season records: Los Angeles Lakers (13-9), Utah Jazz (12-8)
Preview: This contest will be the second of six straight road games for the Lakers. L.A. has already won the first two games of the four-match regular-season series. The Jazz have averaged a woeful 18.5 percent from 3-point land and have been restricted to just 5-of-26 (19 percent) shooting in the paint in those two defeats. If the Jazz are to record their first win against the Lakers this season, they will need to improve on both those counts.

All stats and regular season standings are after games played on February 2, 2012 (IST)