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Utah’s Immovable Object Alters Laker Shots, Plans by Blocking Middle

Times Staff Writer

Center Mark Eaton of the Utah Jazz made life miserable for the Lakers.

The 7-foot 4-inch center was an intimidating force on defense, rejecting seven shots as the Jazz stunned the defending National Basketball Assn. champions, 101-97, Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of 17,505 at the Forum to even their second round playoff series at 1-1.

Eaton, the NBA’s leading shot blocker four of the last five seasons, totally disrupted the Laker offense, clogging the lane as Utah, which lost the series opener by 19 points Sunday, won the first time in its last 13 games at the Forum. The Jazz handed the Lakers a 130-126 overtime loss on Nov. 22, 1983.

“I don’t think you saw the real Jazz Sunday,” Eaton said. “I thought we came out a little flat in the first game. But tonight we got the job done. We accomplished what we came here to do.”

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The Jazz defense stymied the potent Laker offense as Eaton sealed off the middle. The Lakers seemed overanxious to drive at Eaton.

“We felt we were a half step slow on defense in the first game,” Eaton said. “We knew that we couldn’t beat them if we gave up as many layups as we did in the first game. We tried to make it tougher to get up the middle.

“Most people think I have no timing, but shot blocking is timing. But more than blocking shots, I tried to make them change their shots and cut down their options. I try to make them commit.”

Eaton also did a marvelous job of defending Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, limiting the Laker center to just 10 points. Abdul-Jabbar, the leading scorer in NBA history, wasn’t a factor, missing 10 of 13 shots from the floor.

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“I try and keep him (Abdul-Jabbar) a little further out than he normally likes to shoot from,” Eaton said. “I tried to take away his skyhook. He’s buried us with that that shot before. It’s deadly. But he still has a lot of other moves besides the skyhook. Maybe his timing was off tonight. But I know he’ll be back.”

Said Abdul-Jabbar: “The Jazz played our offense real well and they made it difficult for us and we didn’t have the patience to wait for the good shot. Eaton just closed the middle.”

Laker Coach Pat Riley said his team rushed its shots against Eaton.

“He (Eaton) had seven blocks in the first half and when a guy does that the problem is what it does to you psychologically. He just played a great game.

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“We’ve got to be more patient. What we were doing tonight was taking the flip shot from four to five feet away instead of taking layups.”

Although he scored just six points, Eaton was also a force on the boards, grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds.

“I’m not exactly the center of our offense,” Eaton said. “But my job is to play defense and rebound.”

Coach Frank Layden of the Jazz gave Eaton a lot of credit for the win.

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“I thought Mark played one of his best games of the season,” Layden said. “You can’t measure how important blocking shots and rebounding is.”

Eaton also drew a lot of praise from his teammates.

“Mark played a whale of a game tonight,” said Jazz guard John Stockton, who had 19 points and 13 assists. “I thought he literally kept us in the game in the first half when he had seven blocks. And even when he didn’t get the block he stopped the easy layups.”

Said Jazz forward Thurl Bailey, who came off the bench to score 20 points: “He (Eaton) was incredible tonight. Seven blocks is nothing when you consider how many times he altered shots. He’s had a lot of criticism, but he helps the team a lot.”

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Said Jazz forward Karl Malone, who scored a game-high 29 points and hauled down 10 rebounds: “Mark was a big factor tonight. He did a great job tonight. If you were a guard and you saw a 7-4 guy coming at you you’d alter your shot.”

Although the Jazz were celebrating the win, they don’t have any illusions that they have the upper hand against the Lakers in the series.

“We’re Utah and we still don’t believe that we can beat the Lakers,” Malone said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time. The Lakers are the Lakers and the Celtics are the Celtics and we’re the Jazz.

“Right now we have the home court advantage.”

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Malone was still savoring the win 30 minutes after the game ended.

Asked where the victory ranked, Malone said: “This win is on a shelf by itself. We beat the defending world champions.”


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