In October, did anybody figure Mark Eaton would play all but four minutes in the Jazz's first two playoff games? After all, they opened training camp with Darryl Dawkins and Mel Turpin on the roster and Coach Frank Layden announced that the starting center position was wide open.
"It looked like they had different plans," said Eaton, remembering the trade that brought Darryl Dawkins and Mel Turpin to town. "But I was a constant they knew what I could do."Eaton has played well against Portland in the best-of-five playoff series that continues Wednesday night in the Salt Palace, but he owes partial credit for staying in the lineup to Dawkins and Turpin and Coach Frank Layden's view of Dawkins and Turpin.
"I didn't get too upset about it," Eaton says now of the trade, a three-way deal that sent Dell Curry and Kent Benson to Cleveland. "The season is seven months long, and the guys who go out there and do it every night are the guys who end up playing."
Dawkins proved to be a mistake, with his clowning in practice and request to take a month off with pay for personal reasons. The Jazz were fortunate to ship him on Thanksgiving Day for two second-round draft choices to Detroit, where he played seven minutes in two games before going on the Pistons' suspended list.
Turpin, for some reason very popular in the Salt Palace, has eaten his way out of Layden's favor and into a minor backup role behind Eaton. When Turpin appeared briefly in the second quarter of Game 2 Saturday, Portland's Kevin Duckworth and Jerome Kersey scored offensive-rebound baskets and Layden rushed Eaton back in. Eaton stayed until he fouled out late in the game.
"In this particular series, where they're doing such a good job on the offensive boards, it's very hard to get him time," Layden said of Turpin. "Right now, we need rebounding."
That means Eaton, who has 22 boards in two games and is building a decent playoff reputation. He averaged 14.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in four games against Dallas in 1986 and 10.8 points and 11.0 rebounds against Golden State last year after a disappointing regular season. He's scored only 12 points against Portland but has held Blazer center Kevin Duckworth to 37-percent shooting.
"He's got a lot of toughness about him that sometimes isn't recognized," said Layden. "He works hard; he's taken some abuse and he hangs in there."
And the more Eaton plays, the more effective he is, because he gets into the flow on both ends.
Says Eaton of his playing time, "Obviously, I must be doing something right."
JAZZ NOTES: John Stockton's 11 free throws and 12 attempts in the fourth quater of Game 2 Saturday set NBA playoff records for a quarter. The Jazz's 64 field-goal attempts tied the second lowest in playoff history . . . Game 3 will not be televised locally and Friday's Game 4 (9 p.m.) will be carried nationally but blacked out in Salt Lake.