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DeAndre Jordan has become anchor of Clippers' defense

The 22-year-old, 6-foot-11 center was forced to step up when Chris Kaman sprained his right ankle in November. Jordan has started 31 of the Clippers' 40 games.

January 18, 2011|By Lisa Dillman
  • Clippers center DeAndre Jordan has played well since taking over for the injured Chris Kaman.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan has played well since taking over for the… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Wally Pipp was lost on 22-year-old DeAndre Jordan.

Frankly, the old-school reference might have been lost on Jordan's parents.

But then the Clippers' locker room skews quite young. Blake Griffin, 21, was educating some of his youthful teammates on a road trip about semi-recent NBA draft history and the career of Patrick Ewing.

"I'm too young" to know about Ewing, Jordan said to a couple of reporters.

Reporter: "I'm too young to know Wally Pipp. But I know about Wally Pipp."

When it was explained in greater detail that Pipp got hurt and lost his starting job to Lou Gehrig, never got it back and the rest was baseball history, that triggered a response from Jordan.

"Ooh, that's tough," Jordan said. "That's tough."

He knew where the line of questioning was heading: Chris Kaman, meet Wally Pipp.

Jordan, the Clippers' third-year, 6-foot-11 center, was thrust into a starting role when Kaman sprained his right ankle at New Orleans on Nov. 9. Kaman has played only two games since then.

So Jordan has started 31 of the Clippers' 40 games, and the second-round draft pick from Texas A&M is finally delivering on his dazzling potential, just in time for the midpoint of his third NBA season.

In one jaw-dropping three-game sequence, Jordan had 19 blocked shots, and in the third game of that run, on Jan. 5 against Dallas, he had a career-high 20 rebounds.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Jordan was the reason the Clippers were operating at such a high level. He clarified that he meant Jordan, not Clippers shooting guard Eric Gordon, who is having his own breakout season.

The Clippers have won 10 of their last 14 games since a team meeting in Detroit, following a dismal loss at Philadelphia on Dec. 15. In the last week, they beat the Heat, lost to Golden State, beat the Lakers, and avenged a 27-point loss to Indiana, beating the Pacers on Monday afternoon.

There's the looming sheer force of Griffin, Gordon and a rejuvenated Baron Davis but Jordan has become a major factor behind the Clipper resurgence. He is averaging 6.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in 40 games, and his free-throw shooting doesn't inspire quite as many cringes these days.

Jordan's athleticism also shows around the rim. He's fourth in the league in dunks this season, with 75; Griffin leads the league with 91.

"Oh man, [Jordan] is the reason why we've been such a hot team," Davis said. "A lot of the things he's able to do on the defensive end allows us to be a great defensive team. That 41%, our field-goal percentage, that credit goes to him. He's our anchor.

"For a young guy, 22 years old, to be able to be back there and anchor that defense, it is amazing to see his growth and his progress. Just that confidence we have in him."

Said Jordan: "I kind of came into this season knowing that whether I played 20 minutes or 35 minutes [a game], whatever it was, I was going to be ready. I just tried to work this summer. Nobody knew that Chris was going to be hurt and that I was going to have to step up and play. That's what I did.

"We all know Chris is an All-Star. I'm just going to continue to play whenever Chris comes back. Either way, coming off the bench or starting, I'll be ready."

Griffin's impact on Jordan should not be minimized. They are close friends, videogame-playing buddies and feed off each other like skilled comics when shooting trick shots for the Clippers' website.

"I think you've seen a big change in DJ, and I think part of that is him looking at Blake and seeing how Blake is and wanting to be better," Kaman said.

Clippers assistant coach Marc Iavaroni, known for his work with big men, was with the Toronto Raptors last season, so he didn't see much of Jordan until joining the Clippers and Vinny Del Negro's staff in the summer.

"I knew there was a lot of 'Wow' potential," Iavaroni said. "He's a guy we have a very hard time keeping off the floor. It was very, very revealing when we played [Denver]. Blake had 37 minutes, Eric 38 and DeAndre had 40. It was just a huge eye opener."

Jordan started a total of 25 games in his first two Clipper seasons. He didn't get consistent playing time under former coach Mike Dunleavy or Dunleavy's interim replacement, Kim Hughes. There were concerns about Jordan's work habits, and Hughes said Jordan would play more if he ran back more on defense.

"It was up and down," Jordan said. "Sometimes, Chris would be out and I would start. Or Chris would be out and I would play a lot. It was up and down. Now it's pretty consistent."

One low point last season was when he had a big group of family and friends on hand for a game at Houston and Jordan did not get off the bench.

But he had a one-word answer when asked who kept him from getting too low last season.

Jordan: "Blake."

And why was that?

"Because he wasn't playing," Jordan said, of Griffin who missed all of last season with an injured knee. "I said, 'I could not be playing at all.' "

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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