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DeAndre Jordan has been the leader in Clippers' tenacious defense

DeAndre Jordan has been the leader in Clippers' tenacious defense
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan forces Rockets guard Eric Gordon to take a fadeaway shot in the lane during a game Dec. 30 in Houston. (George Bridges / Associated Press)

Doc Rivers has employed mostly three-guard lineups — and some four-guard sets — in the absence of injured power forward Blake Griffin, a strategy that has provided ample outside-shooting and playmaking capabilities for the Clippers.

An added bonus to the small-ball approach has been a more tenacious defense, one that has held opponents to 96.4 points a game, 40.4% shooting from the field (183 for 453) and 27.6 % from three-point range (35 for 127) during a five-game win streak.

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"It's like we're a bunch of bulldogs out there," reserve point guard Raymond Felton said. "We're getting after it. We're extremely athletic, extremely quick."

Of course, it helps to have the Great Dane-like presence of DeAndre Jordan, the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center and an NBA all-defensive first-team selection in the past two seasons, patrolling the paint.

The agile Jordan, with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and instincts honed over nine NBA seasons, was dominant in Wednesday night's 105-96 victory over the Orlando Magic, grabbing 20 rebounds, eight on the offensive end, blocking three shots and throwing down two monster dunks before halftime.

"He's a beast," Orlando Coach Frank Vogel said. "He's really tall, really long and really athletic. He understands angles and the shot-fake and shot-block game. He's one of the best in the business."

Jordan ranks second in the league with an average of 13.7 rebounds a game and 10th with 1.8 blocks a game. Though impossible to quantify, he affects how his teammates defend.

"It makes your job easier because you can really get into the ball, be aggressive and get up into guys because you know you have a big shot blocker back there," Felton said.

"When a guy is as athletic as he is, when he can move laterally and backwards with a guard coming at him downhill, it only helps me to really get into the ball and be able to pick up 94 feet."

Jordan, who swatted an Elfrid Payton shot attempt into the second row behind the basket in the third quarter Wednesday night, is more than a physical presence; he's a vocal one.

"He's always talking, he's always letting us know screens are coming, that you're by yourself, on your own," Felton said. "He lets you know what the plays are."

Defense has been Jordan's strength since he was drafted as a 19-year-old out of Texas A&M in 2008, but point guard Chris Paul said Jordan elevated his game and evolved into a vocal leader when Rivers became coach in 2013.

"When Doc took over, he gave D.J. a lot more responsibility," Paul said. "He told him what he needed from him, he told him that he's the anchor of our defense. D.J. accepted that and has done it ever since."

Jordan has an NBA-high six games in which he's grabbed 20 or more rebounds this season. He has 36 such games in his career, tying him with Kevin Garnett for ninth place for the most 20-plus rebound games since 1983-84. Jordan passed Shaquille O'Neal on that list Wednesday.

"It's humbling, for sure, an honor to be in the same category as those guys in something," Jordan said. "I want to be able to be in the same category with them with the [championship] ring, but that's cool. It's a great accomplishment. I want to build off of it."

The Clippers hope Garnett, the former center who was a 15-time All-Star during his distinguished 21-year NBA career, can help Jordan in the jewelry department.

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The fiery Garnett, who led the Rivers-coached Boston Celtics to the 2007-2008 championship, has been retained as a consultant and began working with Jordan and other Clippers big men this week.

"I don't know if he has a defined role except to work with the bigs and to just give knowledge to whoever wants it about being a teammate, about winning," Rivers said. "I've said that Kevin is the greatest superstar teammate, ever, so it's good to have him around."

Rivers sees some similarities between Garnett and Jordan and believes the former star will rub off on the current one.

"They both have a great amount of intensity, which they bring to the game," Rivers said. "Kevin was obviously a terrific offensive player, and I do think he has some things he can help D.J. with. Kevin had the best habits on off-days that I've ever seen, so I think that can transfer, as well."

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