DeAndre Jordan

LOS ANGELES – There were countless hours in practice and shoot-arounds during the final months of last season where DeAndre Jordan would back Kenyon Martin down with the veteran forward barking behind him.

Martin, now 35, was with Clippers from Feb. 6, 2012 through the end of last season. Jordan has been in L.A. five years, longer than any other current Clipper.

On Sunday as the Clippers defeated the New York Knicks, 93-80, Jordan backed Martin down again, and just as Martin attempted to “pull the chair” away from Jordan to cause a traveling violation, Jordan gathered and flipped in a layup. It was Jordan’s fourth field goal of the first half, including what has become a Sunday staple, a Jordan dunk over an opposing defender.

“[Jordan’s] energy is contagious,” said Jamal Crawford, who had 12 points off the bench Sunday. “I always tell him that. On this team especially, we feed off of that. When he’s locked in and active, we tend to follow suit. So for us, it’s important to keep him in that mind frame.

In a first half that was played at slower pace than perhaps the Clippers (46-21) preferred, Jordan was a spark. He had six of his eight points and six of his 10 rebounds in the first quarter and punctuated a fast break with a slam that required one dribble from near 19 feet away.

He finished the afternoon with eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes.

“When he can get a couple buckets and control the paint like that, it makes it easy for everybody,” Chauncey Billups said. “We welcome great starts from him and we try to actually encourage it, throwing him the ball early in the game.”

The Clippers are 23-6 when Jordan plays 24 minutes or more and Chris Paul starts. They are 17-3 when he makes five baskets and shoots better than 50.0%. There is an argument to be made that the Clippers are at their best when Jordan plays well.

On Sunday the Knicks, opening the game without All-Star center and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler (stiff neck), were overmatched at times by Jordan’s presence inside. And Jordan knew he had an advantage against New York’s defensive philosophy without Chandler.

“I just wanted to take whatever they gave me,” Jordan said. “They switch a lot, so a lot of times I’d have a smaller guy on me. I was trying to ease into my advantage. It worked a little bit, so we kept trying to go to it.”

Blake Griffin agreed:  “I thought D.J. (Jordan) did a great job of attacking down low and finishing over the top.”

Well, except for an alley-oop attempt that Jordan threw down a little too hard in the first half and had carom off the rim, costing Griffin an assist. “He missed that oop I threw him, so I told him I’d unfollow him on Twitter,” Griffin joked.

Griffin and Jordan are fast friends and Jordan is still the guy with a wide smile. He’s gregarious and at times silly. He’ll peer in behind interviewers when Griffin is on camera. He’ll launch 3-pointers from the corner at the end of a practice, a shot he’d only take in the game if the ball found him with the shot clock at a tenuous position, and seem genuinely perturbed when he misses. He raps lyrics to Meek Mill or Jay-Z or A$AP Rocky as he makes his way back to bench between quarters. And, as much as he is sometimes a big kid himself, he’ll entertain his teammates’ children like he did Sunday in the locker room, teaching them elaborate high five routines or throwing around a mini basketball.

On the court, Jordan’s role has diminished somewhat over the last few weeks. He’s 27-of-34 (79.4%) shooting in seven games this month and has averaged 21.6 minutes, including only one minute total in the fourth quarter. But according to Martin, Jordan may still factor into the stretch run because of the work he put in this summer.

“I saw him evolve over the summer,” said Martin, who was one of dozens of NBA players that worked out at the Clippers’ training facility this offseason. “He worked on the things he needed to work on down on the block. He’s working on his game and you could tell. He’s getting more comfortable on the block. Turns over with his left shoulder, right shoulder jump hook and you can tell he’s working. That’s most important; guys evolve and that’s what he’s doing.”

Early in the second half against the Knicks, Jordan drew Martin’s fourth foul as he plucked a rebound away from him on the offensive end. Later, Jordan swatted a Raymond Felton layup into the first row, walked a couple of steps into the stands near the basket stanchion and clapped his hands wildly. As much as the high-flying dunk over Brandon Knight dunk last week or any of his other 144 slams this year, it’s Jordan’s energy and paint protection that make a difference for the Clippers.

“We just have to continue to let him know that he’s one of our sources of energy,” Crawford said.

On Sunday, when the Clippers needed it early, that’s exactly what Jordan was.