The Utah Jazz visit the Houston Rockets Wednesday night for a crucial showdown for both teams. The two teams are among four squads in the Western Conference vying for the final two playoff spots.
The Rockets have been relatively mediocre as of late, going just 5-5 over their last 10 games. They still hold the seventh playoff seed in the West with a two-game playoff cushion.
The Jazz have been in free-fall mode, going 3-9 over the last 12 games and dropping a game behind the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the conference.
The winner of this great matchup will be determined by the play of some of the key pieces on both sides.
The Houston center has presented a breakout season his first year in Houston. The 26-year-old has averaged over seven points per game more than he averaged last season, and he's more than doubled his average rebounds.
Other than James Harden, Asik's acquisition was arguably the best offseason addition to the Rockets (with Jeremy Lin in the discussion as well).
During the two Houston wins over Utah, Asik has averaged 15.5 rebounds and 9.0 points. His presence was most felt in the Rockets' throttling of the Jazz on January 28, when he dominated the glass and grabbed 19 rebounds, while no opposing player collected more than eight.
Who will win this game?
Another key contributor for the Rockets is point guard Jeremy Lin.
When Lin is playing well, the Rockets win. In wins this season, he is shooting 47.6 percent from the field, versus just 40.3 percent in losses. His assists numbers also dip by 1.3 per game in losses.
One number has gone up during the losses: turnovers. He averages 3.1 turnovers per game when the Rockets lose, versus just 2.6 turnovers when they win. His taking care of the ball will go a long way toward a Rockets win.
There has been a direct correlation between the play of center Al Jefferson and the success of the Jazz.
In Utah wins, he averages 19.3 points per game, 9.7 rebounds and a 51.2 percent field-goal percentage. In losses, those numbers dip to 15.2, 8.6 and 45.1, respectively.
It is no wonder, then, that Jefferson's stats over the past 10 games have slightly lower than his numbers in losses this season.
The Jazz have gone 1-2 against Houston so far this season, and one big difference in the one win was Jefferson's rebounding. He only scored 14 points in that November 19 home win over Houston, but his 16 rebounds was the most of any player on either team, by a margin of 10.