Center DeAndre Jordan, right, knows he's capable of being a defensive… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The conversations between 23-year-old DeAndre Jordan and Chauncey Billups have been along the lines of a professor's engaging his student.
It has been the wise Billups offering wisdom from his 15 years of NBA experience to the willing Jordan, much of it focused on how the young Clippers center can provide the team with a unique presence that can be similar to Ben Wallace's during his heyday with the Detroit Pistons.
Billups has told Jordan that he can be a game-changer on defense, a force in the middle, an intimidator and a key rebounder — some of the traits Billups saw firsthand while playing with Wallace in Detroit.
Jordan has listened intently, acknowledging he has always had a fondness for the best defensive players in the NBA.
"I love Ben," Jordan said. "When I was little, everybody loved KG [Kevin Garnett]. I'm still a KG fan. I just can't put it out there like that when you play against him. I loved Hakeem Olajuwon because I'm from Houston. So growing up watching him play was always good. Any guy that played defense, guys like that I always liked."
The Clippers will need Jordan more than ever in their first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies that begins Sunday.
They'll need the 6-foot-11 Jordan to provide a defensive presence against Memphis' physical and dominating frontline.
Jordan will have to contend with Memphis' 7-1 All-Star center Marc Gasol, and to help out covering 6-9 power forward Zach Randolph, 6-8 small forward Rudy Gay and 6-10 forward-center Marreese Speights.
"For us to have an excellent opportunity in this series, DJ is going to have to play very well, just like everybody," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Jordan knows his role.
"I have to be our defensive anchor," Jordan said. "Just kind of be everybody's safety net. Me back there gives everybody a lot of more confidence to gamble [on defense]. And then I have to rebound, be one of the leaders, especially on the defensive end."
Billups played four seasons with Wallace in Detroit, winning an NBA championship in 2004. He recalled how Wallace was a specialist who took pride in his craft.
Wallace is on the downside of his career with the Pistons, but the undersized 6-9 center has averaged 10 rebounds a game over a 16-year career. He was named defensive player of the year four times, was on the all-defensive team six times, was All-NBA five times and made the All-Star team four times.
Now that Billups is sidelined by a season-ending torn left Achilles' tendon, he is like the teacher in the classroom, talking to Jordan at practice, video sessions, shoot-arounds and during games. Billups will travel in the playoffs with the Clippers, ready to mentor.
In the off-season, Jordan signed a four-year, $42.8-million deal with the Clippers. This season he was second on the team in rebounding at 8.3 boards a game and was fourth in the NBA in blocked shots at 2.05 per game.
"He's been very receptive," Billups said. "He wants to be looked at like one of the best defenders in the league.
"But it's a process and sometimes I've got to slow myself down and remember that he is young and he doesn't have a lot of experience. I'm talking about a finished product in Ben Wallace and not the first stages. I think that DJ can certainly get there. He has a little ways to go, but he's locked into trying to get there and that's the most important thing."
The Clippers didn't practice Thursday, but Chris Paul came for treatment on the mild left groin strain that kept him out of Wednesday night's game in New York. Paul said after the game that he will play in Game 1 against Memphis on Sunday.