John Stockton could play 48 minutes for the Utah Jazz today against the Portland Trail Blazers. Then again, he could play two.

For the first time this season, the amount of time Stockton is on the court is completely up to the discretion of Jerry Sloan.Doctors put limits on Stockton's playing time after his return from knee surgery nine games ago. When he first came back, 20 minutes was the maximum. During the past six games, Stockton could play a maximum of 28 minutes in four seven-minute stretches.

But those restrictions have been lifted. He's been medically cleared to play as much - or as little - as Sloan wants him to.

Major changes in the amount of time Stockton will play isn't likely, however, for one main reason - Howard Eisley is doing the job when Stockton isn't out there. No longer do the Jazz need Stockton on the court for 40 minutes to win.

"Howard's earned the opportunity to play some minutes," said Sloan. "If and when I can, if he's playing well, I'll play Howard."

Expect Stockton to see about 30 minutes on the court, with Eisley getting the remaining 18. Jacque Vaughn, the Jazz's rookie point guard, will continue to be out of the rotation for the time being. Vaughn, who averaged 17 minutes per game in the first 20, hasn't played at all during the past seven.

"(Vaughn) is out there working (in practice). He's doing the things he's been told to do," said Sloan. "He's been positive and he pays attention and tries to get better."

Sloan sees a similarity between what happened to him and what's happening to Vaughn. During Sloan's rookie season with the Baltimore Bullets in 1965-66, he played a lot early but was then relegated to the end of the bench. He said that season helped him become "a student of the game." The next year he became a member of the Chicago Bulls and his career bloomed.

"He got to play some valuable minutes," Sloan said of Vaughn's situation with Stockton out. `Now he needs to sit down and study the game and see what other guys do so that he can become a better player."

Today's matinee game (1 p.m. tipoff) with the Blazers will be a rematch of a Dec. 5 game won by Portland when both teams played without their top point guards due to injury. Both Stockton and Kenny Anderson will play this time.

The teams have been going in different directions since then. The Blazers have lost four of their last six, while the Jazz have won four of five.