Now we know why Jazz guard Darrell Griffith was playing so well in November.

Bobby Hansen's hand was in a cast.With Hansen playing again, Griffith no longer has the comfort of knowing he'll play 35 minutes a game, whether the shots are falling or not. Griff's last big game - 32 points against Michael Jordan - came on Nov. 30, the day before Hansen was originally scheduled to return.

Since Hansen finally appeared Dec. 14, Griffith is is averaging 32.1 minutes and 14.7 points while shooting .404 from the field. In the 20 non-Hansen games, he was averaging 36.7 minutes and 19.2 points and shooting .481, shaking off his troubles of the previous two years.

Is he looking over his shoulder again now? "I hope not, becuase he's so valuable to us," said Coach Jerry Sloan, who plans to talk with Griffith when the Jazz return to practice Tuesday night following a 48-hour Christmas break. "Players shouldn't be worried about those things.

While the Jazz were 13-7 without Hansen, they obviously do need him. The re-entry stage is difficult, as Sloan has to give him playing time and a chance to get back into his game, while Griffith has to adjust to sharing time.

"I didn't expect to play 35-36 minutes when he came back," noted Griffith. "That's probably the deepest position on the team."

After trying to keep three or four off-guards happy the last two seasons, the Jazz should have an easier time with just Hansen and Griffith - not counting Bart Kofoed. Sloan has a delicate situation, though, trying to get the most of Hansen's all-around ability while not losing Griffith's scoring.

Each played 24 minutes in Sunday's win over the Lakers; Hansen was sound but Griffith (2 of 10) struggled. When Griffith and Kelly Tripucka were hurt last season, Hansen provided the Jazz's best off-guard play of the year. Will the same be true of Griffith this season?

*** A few updates, at the one-third mark of the season for the Jazz, who play Sacramento in the Salt Palace Wednesday:

- The Jazz are playing even better defense than last season, when their field-goal defense of .443 was the NBA's best in 10 years. Through 27 games, Jazz opponents are shooting .436 - only five have shot .500 or better.

- Karl Malone can become the first Jazzman since Adrian Dantley in 1983-84 (30.6) to average 30 points a game. The Mailman is second in the NBA at 29.9.

- John Stockton had consecutive games of single-figure assists last week for the first time since last December, but he's only slightly below his NBA record pace. Stockton is averaging 13.44 assists compared with 13.76 last year.

--Mark Eaton is being seriously challenged for the NBA shot-blocking title. Eaton is averaging 3.8 blocks to Manute Bol's 4.1 and Akeem Olajuwon's 3.9.