Marc Iavaroni is not the player who keeps Thurl Bailey out of the Jazz starting lineup Bailey is. The better Bailey plays as the Jazz's sixth man, the more Coach Frank Layden is convinced to keep him coming off the bench.

Which means that every game, long about 7:55 p.m., Bailey checks in for Iavaroni."Sometimes, it's frustrating when you're playing very well and you want to stay in there," said Iavaroni. "Basically, I've just accepted any role they've given me. I think I've done a good job of peforming and accepting, considering . . ."

Iavaroni will make his 69th start of the season when the Jazz play Portland tonight. Even if he's a token starter, he's contributed this season and at least made the Jazz consider protecting him for the expansion draft.

He's also in the option year of his contract, meaning the Jazz will have to make another decision about his future this summer. For now, he remains a starting forward, no matter that he averages only 4.4 points and has played more than 20 minutes only 17 times this year. Blame Bailey for that.

"You really have to give him as many minutes as possible," says Iavaroni.

CHANGING GUARDS: Who says the Jazz have too many off guards? Kelly Tripucka stayed home with a worsening case of the flu, leaving Bart Kofoed to back up Bobby Hansen. Darrell Griffith, out since March 5 with a knee injury, will try to return next season.

Griffith will have to gear up for another summer of recovery, having missed the 1986-87 season with a broken foot.

PLAYOFF UPDATE: Who knows? While Denver appears to have clinched the Midwest Division title and No. 2 Western Conference playoff seed, Dallas and Portland are tied for No. 3 and Houston, the Jazz and Seattle are still fighting for Nos. 5-7.

The playoff pairings may not be decided until Sunday night. For now, these reminders for tiebreaking purposes: Dallas has won the season series with Portland; the Jazz have clinched the season series with Seattle, Friday's opponent; and if the Jazz beat Houston Saturday, they would tie the season season and gain a higher seed because of a better conference record. Stay tuned.