For a playoff series that defies any study of position matchups, we give you the six most important people and the questions surrounding them in Jazz vs. Warriors, which opens Thursday night in the Salt Palace:
Mark Eaton, Jazz center - Can Eaton have his usual impact against an unusual team? When the Warriors used their small lineup exclusively in a 131-105 win over the Jazz Jan. 14 in Oakland, Coach Jerry Sloan finally had to give up on Eaton and play his own little team."They want to neutralize Mark as much as possible . . . everyone wants to do that," Sloan noted. "That's probably why we'll see a lot of the small lineup."
Eaton is confident he'll be a factor, because of playoff-style basketball. "The bottom line in the playoffs is to get in the paint and grind it out," he said.
Chances are, Eaton will play his regular 35 minutes or more if the Warriors use any kind of conventional lineup or he can score against smaller defenders. In one of Golden State's more popular lineups, somebody like 6-foot-5 Otis Smith could end up guarding Eaton. "He's got to take the ball to the basket with those guys on him," said Sloan.
Chris Mullin, Warrior forward - Who will guard Mullin? In any lineup, the 6-5 Mullin creates immediate matchup trouble for the Jazz. No way, logically, can the Jazz open the game with Mike Brown on Mullin. That could mean Thurl Bailey starting; Sloan is also considering a way to have Bobby Hansen defend Mullin - but who would that leave on rookie guard Mitch Richmond?
"(Mullin) will extend us . . . on the other hand, hopefully it'll be to our advantage on the other end," Sloan said.
Golden State frequently uses Mullin as a point forward, bringing his defender way out. "Wherever he goes, he's pretty dangerous," Bailey said of Mullin, who's averaging 26.5 points. "He's quick and uses his screens, and he knows how to get open."
Bobby Hansen, Jazz guard - Will Hansen come alive again in the playoffs? He has a good playoff history, dating to his 1986 matchup with Dallas' Rolando Blackman.
Hansen had a difficult season after entering with a new contract and high expectations, missing 36 games in a year he describes as "interrupted twice" - by a broken hand, when he bumped a Philadelphia player in an exhibiton game; and by a broken cheekbone, from a fight with former teammate Bart Kofoed.
He's intrigued by his chances to play different roles against the Warriors, starting at guard and also playing small forward. "They've definitely got some strange matchups they're going to use," Hansen said. "We'll just try to match up with them if they take our bigger guys out on the floor."
Hansen averaged 15.4 points in 11 playoff games last spring, but he says of his current assignment in the Jazz's all-inside offense, "Any point production is a plus." Don Nelson, Warrior coach - Can he deliver a playoff upset? He'll try everything from underdog psychology to crazy lineups to intimidating the referees in his quest to knock off the Jazz.
Nelson has won more playoff games (42) than the Jazz have ever played (39) and, while Sloan stepped into a tough situation to lead the Jazz to their best record and earn some consideration for NBA coach of the year, Nelson's presence has to be respected in this series. He'll be storming the sidelines in his suit and tennis shoes, complaining every time that Sloan's yelling results in an illegal-defense call on the Warriors.
John Stockton, Jazz guard - Will he stay out of foul trouble? The Jazz can handle the Warriors' trapping defense only if Stockton plays 42 to 46 minutes a game. Amazingly, the Jazz struggled only twice all season when Stockton had foul trouble - losing one-point games to New York and Atlanta - but this is different. The point guard's play will control the success of the Jazz offense. Just ask Jim Les, Stockton's understudy.
"They're trying to get the ball out of John's hands to disrupt the offense," said Les. "The point guard has to make sure we stay organized; if we do that against the gimmicky defenses, you can break 'em down."
At worst, the Jazz do have a true backup in Les. When Rickey Green was injured in the '87 Jazz-Warriors series, the Jazz had to rest Stockton with Hansen or Kelly Tripucka.
Manute Bol, Warrior center - How much will he play? Can you picture the Jazz season ending on a Bol 3-pointer?
Bol will possibly play less than his usual 20 minutes, if Nelson stays small. Bol won the NBA shot-blocking title over Eaton for the second time in his four seasons, but he really became a Bay Area curiosity with his 3-point shooting. After making his first career 3-pointer Dec. 15, Bol went on to make 20 for the season.
When he made two 3s against the Jazz March 10, he had the Salt Palace buzzing. Bol also had 10 blocks in the game, showing the Jazz what facing Eaton is like, although he failed to disturb Sloan. "We won that game, didn't we?" Sloan said.