JORDAN BACK TO CONTROLLING PAINT
DeAndre Jordan out-leaped three players, including teammate Lamar Odom, to one-arm a rebound in the middle of the second quarter Wednesday in New Orleans.
He landed, cleared out, passed the ball ahead and galloped down the center of the floor. He’s done that kind of thing a lot over the last three games: rebounding, impacting games, and never missing.
“His energy’s been good,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He’s been active. We need him to do that.”
Jordan was in the locker room in New Orleans, watching the Heat lose for the first time in nearly two months, and providing running commentary. Ronny Turiaf interrupted Jordan’s postgame interview with the media a few minutes later and Jordan and his affable teammate exchanged barbs like a couple of hype-men on a local access commercial.
Jordan seemed jovial. And he should.
He has not missed a shot since the first quarter of the Clippers’ Mar. 20 game against the 76ers, making 15 in row, one shy of Al Horford’s league high this season. He’s shooting better than 83% this month, the best field goal percentage in a calendar month in almost three decades. And he’s corralled at least 10 rebounds in the last three games, a season-first for him.
To some degree, it’s like the old Jordan, but new again.
There have been distinct ebbs and flows to Jordan’s fifth season with the Clippers. Coming out of training camp his newfound postgame was widely praised. There were moments when he would devour the interior on both ends of the floor in a way that seemed both ferocious and athletic. Jordan powered his way to 21 points against the Trail Blazers in November and two weeks later was spinning into the lane and completing a 3-point play in overtime against the Thunder.
There was a blocked shot to save a win in Utah and a dismantling of the Bucks where he went for 15 points and 11 boards. Those moments coincided with the Clippers’ most consistent success, winning 17 games in a row and entering early January perhaps the league’s biggest bullies. But somewhere along the way, Jordan’s impact on games dwindled.
Chris Paul was injured. The Clippers were losing half the time. And despite a 22-rebound game in Washington and a pair of game-changing rebounds to preserve a win in Minnesota, Jordan had become less of a factor and much of the goofiness and joy that best personify Jordan had disappeared.
At one time Paul called Jordan the team’s most important player and two days after Jordan’s iconic dunk over Brandon Knight, Paul referred to the big man as a “game changer.”
Paul used those words again Saturday when Jordan notched his career-high tenth double-double, adding, “Sometimes it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet when he changes a shot or makes a [player] going to the basket pass it.”
There is also statistical evidence to suggest the Jordan is as important to the Clippers’ success as anyone. Take his plus-minus, for example. Jordan is a +8.5 in wins and a -6.0 in losses, essentially a difference of 14.5. Only Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford have a larger disparity among players who have appeared in at least 30 games for the Clippers.
It’s why Del Negro preached consistency after Jordan went for 11 rebounds in 27:37 at New Orleans on Mar. 27.
“He has to be [consistent],” Del Negro said. “It’s all about energy. There’s nothing he can’t do athletically out there. He’s got to be locked into what we’re doing every night, every possession.”
While Del Negro is focused on Jordan’s day-to-day impact, a night earlier, in the hours before the Clippers took on the Mavericks, head coach Rick Carlisle, who has seen Jordan three times this season and spent time with him in Las Vegas this summer, talked about Jordan’s macro improvement.
“He’s much improved,” Carlisle said. “He’s improved every year. Within their system, he’s a real factor and a real force. He rebounds, keeps balls alive. He’s a great roller, a lot of the lobs go to him. He’s a good defender and I just see gradual maturity and growth.”
Part of Jordan’s growth has come on the boards. He’s averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in the last six, including nearly three per game on the offensive glass.
“I’m trying to get to every shot that’s missed,” Jordan said. “I can either tip it out or I have three or four guys trying to box me out and Blake will get it or Caron [Butler] will get it or somebody.”
That’s the kind of relentless energy and frame of mind that Del Negro was talking about. It’s what the old DeAndre Jordan did earlier in the year and the new DeAndre Jordan seems to have gotten back to.