DeAndre Jordan was on the verge of making another kind of all-defensive team in the hours before the Clippers' season opener, giving short, choppy answers when asked about the form on his free throws and his team's new coverages on pick and rolls.
The normally jovial center didn't resemble himself on the court either in the season's first few weeks. Even though his numbers were down only slightly from last season, Jordan didn't exhibit his usual energy in setting screens, grabbing rebounds or blocking shots.
His lethargy was reflected in his team's record, which dipped below .500 nearly a quarter of the way into the season.
The Clippers' winning seven of their last nine games has corresponded with the reappearance of Jordan's silly side, and no, it doesn't feel like a coincidence. He hugged a referee Saturday at the Barclays Center, leaped off the bench to celebrate a Paul Pierce dunk and was back to his goofy ways in the locker room after the Clippers completed a 105-100 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Told that Doc Rivers had complimented him, Jordan quipped that he had given his coach "a hundred bucks."
Asked about his excitement over Pierce's dunk, Jordan said, "Hell, yeah. Paul's 40 years old."
When a reporter with a thick French accent inquired about the contributions of Luc Mbah a Moute, Jordan responded wryly with a casual greeting in the reporter's preferred language, "Ca va? Ca va?"
The Clippers are doing just fine lately, thanks in large part to Jordan, whose energy spike has sparked a defense that has shaved nearly 10 full points off what it was allowing teams to score earlier this season. The Clippers have given up an average of 95.9 points per game over their last 12 games, down from 105.7 points over the season's first 12 games.
"He's been better than — I would make a case — I've ever seen him," said Rivers, whose Clippers will try to finish their trip with a fourth victory in five games Monday when they play the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills. "He's just been really engaged and good."
Rivers said Jordan's mastery of the Clippers' new pick-and-roll coverages, which feature their big men staying closer to the basket than in previous seasons, should lead to continued defensive improvement. Jordan has continually chased prolific scorers away from the basket and blocked shots late in recent victories over Orlando and Minnesota.
He's also resembled a volleyball star, repeatedly tapping rebounds high in the air to teammates with his massive hands. His booming voice can be heard all the way across arenas as he yells "Ice!" to alert his teammates to the play the other team is running.
"He's been more active, for sure," said Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick. "He's definitely our anchor, and I think we rely on him — meaning the other four guys on the court — to be the helper and to be the rebounder and the voice of our defense."
Jordan is still hearing it from fans needling him about his decision to spurn the Dallas Mavericks after a five-day commitment in free agency last summer to return to the Clippers.
Chants of "Dallas hates you!" and "Mark Cuban!" greeted Jordan when he stepped to the free-throw line Saturday against the Nets. Staying with the Clippers allowed Jordan, 27, to become the second-highest player on the team, the annual value on his four-year, $87.6-million contract trailing only that of All-Star point guard Chris Paul.
Jordan said his early struggles were not related to any sort of pressure to live up to his new contract.
"No, I feel like you guys put the pressure on players," Jordan said, referring to the media. "I really don't care, I'm just going to continue to keep playing the way I've been playing the past seven years and try to improve and help this team improve."
Jordan has five double-doubles in his last seven games, a stretch in which he has averaged 15.7 rebounds and 12.3 points per game. Those numbers are a few ticks above his season averages of 13.4 rebounds and 11.0 points.
His production makes him a contender to repeat as a member of the NBA's first-team defense as well as its third-team center. He leads the league by shooting 68.8%, ranks second behind Detroit's Andre Drummond in rebounding and trails only Miami's Hassan Whiteside and New Orleans' Anthony Davis in blocks with an average of 2.4 per game.
Yes, he's making only 38.7% of his free throws, his worst percentage in three seasons, but it's like a dirty windshield on a zippy new sports car considering Jordan's upside in every other area.
"I've just figured out things that I have to do for this team in order for us to be successful and in order for me to be successful," Jordan said. "It's my energy, it's my effort on both ends of the floor, getting guys open and keeping possessions alive and defending."
They're all things that could land Jordan on the all-defensive team to which he's a more natural fit.
Up next for the Clippers:
When: 4:30 p.m. PST Monday.
Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Clippers 14-10; Pistons 14-11.
Record vs. Pistons: 1-0.
Update: Jamal Crawford scored 37 points and Blake Griffin added 34 to lead the Clippers' frantic comeback for a 101-96 victory over Detroit on Nov. 14 at Staples Center. The Pistons led by 17 points in the second quarter and the Clippers were playing without guards Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, who have since returned. The Clippers have won seven of their last nine games to move into fourth place in the Western Conference standings.