After last season, the Jazz were almost willing to give away backup center Kent Benson.

They traded with Cleveland for Mel Turpin, and is he any better?Not much, according to the numbers.

Benson: 12.3 minutes, 4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds.

Turpin: 13.2 minutes, 6.1 points, 3.2 rebounds.

Benson appeared only briefly in the playoffs as Coach Frank Layden stuck with Mark Eaton and used Karl Malone as his backup center. In the last three weeks of the regular season, starting with tonight's game against Phoenix in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Turpin will apparently have to prove he belongs in the playoff rotation.

He made a move Saturday, scoring eight points in 11 minutes in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that, he was publicly criticized by Layden after the previous game for being "overweight and out of shape" and stayed on the bench the first time Eaton rested Saturday.

Layden is displeased with Turpin's effort this season, saying, "It's sad, because he's cheating himself and he's cheating the team."

Turpin, who was riding an exercise bicycle in the training room while Layden was blasting him in a postgame interview Thursday, insists he's doing all he can to stay in shape, which is difficult when he's not playing much.

In back-to-back games at Detroit and Washington in early March, Turpin played a total of 49 minutes and scored 32 points. Since then, Layden has given him infrequent minutes 51 in the last eight games. "I'm not the kind of guy who's going to put on the bench," Turpin says.

"It's always hard to lose weight," adds Turpin, who has stayed in the 270s, about 10 or more pounds over the Jazz's request. "I know I've got a problem, but I know I can play with the weight."

Turpin says he wants to lose a few pounds to get ready for the playoffs. That may be too late.

PLAYOFF UPDATE: This is becoming more confusing all the time.

The Jazz could end up seeded anywhere between fifth and seventh in the West, and teams ahead of them could be second, third or fourth. We know this much probably: The Jazz will be on the road for the first round, against Dallas, Denver or Portland.

The opening-round matchups are No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. As Dallas and Denver, surprisingly, battle in the Midwest Division, remember that the champion will be the No. 2 seed, with the runnerup contending with Portland for No. 3.

With 11 games remaining seven on the road, four at home, the Jazz (40-31) are No. 6, two games ahaead of Seattle and 11/2 games behind Houston. We'll have an idea of whether the Rockets really want to finish fifth which could mean a second-round pairing with the Lakers when they play the Jazz Thursday in Houston.

"I don't care who we play," says Layden. "You start worrying about who you're going to play, and you don't know what can happen."