Sports

Clippers' DeAndre Jordan a defensive dynamo

Mr. Smiley Face came to town, providing DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers a chance to do their usual thing against the Houston Rockets.

Have a nice day.

Dwight Howard actually didn't look happy for most of the Rockets' 101-93 loss Wednesday night at Staples Center, perhaps mindful that he was not the best defensive player on the floor.

That title went to Jordan, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound block of granite with an equally massive accelerator. He was citius, altius, fortius without needing a passport to Sochi.

BOX SCORE: Clippers 101, Houston Rockets 93

Jordan stole a James Harden pass intended for Howard late in the fourth quarter and led the fastbreak, finding Matt Barnes for a layup that gave the Clippers a seven-point lead.

"I almost gave Matt like a fake pass because I never really get to push the break like that," Jordan joked. "Nah, Matt was wide open, so it was an easy play to make."

His arms and legs were constantly in motion, giving the Rockets whiplash on both ends of the court. One moment he's snatching an alley-oop pass from Chris Paul for a dunk. The next he's elevating to block a Chandler Parsons three-pointer in the corner.

Jordan tallied four blocked shots and three steals, enhancing his reputation as one of the game's top stoppers.

"D.J. has been so important for us with his energy, with his emotion, driving our guys on defense," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. "He's been great."

Jordan also had 13 points and 10 rebounds as the Clippers improved to 3-0 this season against the Rockets, a team they would gladly pencil in as a first-round playoff opponent.

Howard wasn't exactly a slouch, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds on a night the Clippers decided not to trap him to protect the three-point line.

He even made five of nine free throws but continued to fare poorly in the popularity department.

The fans continually booed the former Laker any time he touched the ball, which now appears to be a condition of entry at Staples Center no matter the home team.

Even Howard apologists would probably concede the three-time defensive player of the year, who had only one block Wednesday, couldn't provide liftoff for his team the way Jordan did for the Clippers.

Jordan notched his career-high 30th double-double by making six of seven shots, improving the NBA's leading field-goal percentage. He's on track to become the first player to finish atop the league in rebounding and field-goal percentage since Howard did it during the 2009-10 season.

Jordan also had four dunks, including a pair of the alley-oop variety in the third quarter, increasing his NBA-high total to 171.

His impact went far beyond the box score. Jordan went chest to chest with Harden after Harden pushed Darren Collison in the fourth quarter and did not back down.

"It's not just about me," Jordan said.

"Our whole team is getting better defensively and I can't make a lot of the plays that I make without my teammates initiating contact and getting into the ball. We know we all have to be on a string."

Making Jordan's showing all the more impressive was that Howard and the Rockets were a far more cohesive team than the sputtering entity the Clippers twice blitzed by double digits in early November, back when 7-footer Omer Asik was part of a Twin Towers lineup that quickly morphed into double trouble.

Howard was just feeling out his new team then.

Things have changed, considering the Rockets are now 18-6 in 2014, though their performance against the Clippers was further indication that they remain defensively challenged.

Howard mostly fumbled his way around the court in the early going.

He had potential rebounds stripped away by Jordan and Blake Griffin and picked up a second foul early in the first quarter, sending him to the bench.

Jordan nearly matched Howard basket for basket, throwing down a one-handed dunk after his counterpart had soared for a dunk.

On the defensive end, it was no contest.

It was enough to make even the most hardened Clippers fan turn his frown upside down.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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