DEANDRE JORDAN PLAYING HIS BEST BASKETBALL
They said DeAndre Jordan was different. Doc Rivers has said it since he first stood in front of the media in San Diego a month ago after the first practice of training camp had concluded.
Rivers has repeated his praise enough times that you are almost forced to believe it. Jordan’s preseason effort and all of the superlatives that followed were well documented. At the time, it seemed almost too much so.
He has yet to play a November game, but he is different. It doesn’t take Rivers or Chris Paul or his friend Blake Griffin or Portland head coach Terry Stotts, who saw Jordan twice in the exhibition season, to say so. Just let your eyes tell you.
Jordan has been charged as the leader of the Clippers’ defense. He’s been told to lead with his actions on that end of the floor. Rivers called him the defensive captain on a team where he did not name official captains.
When Andrew Bogut fouled Jordan under the basket in Thursday’s 126-115 win over the Warriors, Jordan took exception and shoved the hard-nosed Australian center in the chest. He barked at him with vitriol. Bogut shoved back and Jordan never receded. They were both assessed, or awarded, technical fouls.
“I like the fight, but I don’t like the fighting,” Rivers said.
But he must like what a rejuvenated Jordan has shown. He had 23 rebounds in the first six quarters of the regular season. He’s averaging 14.0 per game. He has just four rejections, but has altered enough in two games to fill a mail carrier’s bag. He’s scrambling from the perimeter back to the paint. He is showing and talking and scrapping.
When he drew a charge from Marreese Speights at the 1:12 mark Tuesday, he looked over to Rivers who was clapping profusely.
“He gives you the confidence to go out there and play to the best of your abilities and it’s rubbing of on everybody,” Jordan said of his head coach.
And Jordan is who it has clearly rubbed off on the most. He was playing so well in his 41 minutes Thursday that it hardly mattered that he missed nine of his 12 free throws. Even when the Warriors intentionally fouled, Rivers stuck with his springy 6-foot-11 big man.
“He’s too good for us on the other end [to not put him back in],” Rivers said. “I told him, ‘If you miss two, get a stop and they don’t gain anything.’ He’s just playing so well and doing so many things. I keep telling him, ‘Don’t let missed free throws side track you. You’ve been one of the most dominant forces on the floor. So what? Everybody’s got a weakness.’”
Free throws maladies excepted, Jordan has shown few weaknesses since Rivers took over in June. He entered camp in what Rivers termed the best shape of Jordan’s six-year career and has done nothing to dispel the idea that he realistically could be in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year.
Reserve center Ryan Hollins, who is in the midst of his second season behind Jordan said, “[Thursday’s] one of the finest games I’ve ever seen DeAndre play. His commitment offensively to set screens and offensive rebound, and defensively, clogging the paint and talking, his mentality is through the roof. Defensive Player of the Year, he’s got that type of talent. He’s definitely grown up. That’s definitely the best game I’ve seen him play just mentally, staying in it both halves.”
Jordan has talked all month about meeting Rivers’ challenges head on. He is perhaps the best center in the game at running the floor, but he is not running from anything Rivers or his staff throw at him. He holds teammates accountable, has grasped Rivers’ defensive concepts quicker than anyone, and seems more mature than he did even five months ago.
“Last year’s last year,” Rivers said. “I can’t do anything about that and he can’t either. He can just worry about Sacramento [Friday]. He’s played two good games and he can’t even worry about the two good ones. Those are gone. He’s just been playing wonderful. I think he’s playing free. I think he know his role with our team and the value he has with our team. I think he’s going for it. I think he’s been freed.”