PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – By the time Clippers center DeAndre Jordan got home Sunday night, he had already picked up a few thousand Twitter followers who had seen the thunderous dunk he threw down over Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight.
Then he watched it – and saw the reactions of his teammates and fans.
“I thought they were going to invite me to the White House,” Jordan said Monday, “but I guess not.”
One day later, the Clippers were still in awe of the dunk the 6-foot-11 Jordan made in his team’s 129-97 win over the Pistons. Knight, who tried in vain to block the shot, hit the floor with a thud and wound up flat on his back after Jordan took a lob pass from Chris Paul and slammed it with his right hand.
“That one was unreal,” said Paul, who walked over to check on Knight. “I think I was more worried about B. Knight, too. I was seriously concerned. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. I was concerned because he hit his head.”
The Clippers were in awe. Matt Barnes sprinted to the other end of the floor, grinning all the way. Caron Butler rushed over to hug Jordan. Blake Griffin was so animated on the sideline that coach Vinny Del Negro had to hold him back to prevent a technical foul. Everyone one else hopped up and down with glee.
So what can Jordan do for an encore? More playing time would be nice.
Jordan has started every game this season, but he ranks sixth on the team in minutes played. In close games, he usually sits in the fourth quarter because teams are likely to foul him when he touches the ball, and for good reason: His 42-percent free-throw accuracy ranks near the bottom of the league.
That means Del Negro is more apt to foul Jordan than leave him in games for his shot-blocking ability.
“He knows it,” Paul said. “It’s because teams may try to foul him, and that’s why I think he’s getting better. Last night after that dunk, the biggest thing he did was he went to the line and made the free throw. He could have easily been too excited, but he locked in and concentrated. As the coaches continue to see more of that, he will be in the game.”
That impressed Del Negro, too. Jordan calmly stepped to the foul line and converted the three-point play after Knight fouled him. Jordan made three of five free throws, but in his previous seven games, he missed 11 of 18.
He works on it, attempting more than 200 each day after practice. But making them in games is considerably more challenging.
He says his mechanics are good, but often it’s the mental aspect that gives him trouble.
“A lot of it is,” he said. “I can stand here in practice and make a couple in a row and 19 out of 25 believe it or not, just because nobody is here. It’s an empty gym. But when you get into the game, the crowd is into it, you’re thinking about the score, about making them. Your mind isn’t on mechanics and shooting the basketball. A lot of other things are going on.”
The Clippers were hoping that Jordan, who is in the second year of a four-year, $43-million contract, would take a significant step forward in his development this season. But so far his minutes, rebounds, blocked shots and field-goal percentage are down from a year ago. At critical times, he’s more apt to be on the bench than in the game.
“Everybody wants to play 40, 48 minutes a game, but it’s not possible,” he said. “We know who our two main guys are, and they’re going to play the majority of minutes, but I feel like everybody on this team is sacrificing somewhat to try to achieve our goal. We want to hoist a trophy at the end of the year. Anybody on our team could average 20 points a game if they wanted to, but a lot of guys are sacrificing for us to hopefully be playing in June.”
Even if he can’t sink foul shots, Jordan, 24, plays a big role in altering shots and preventing opponents from getting in the lane. He ranks 15th in the league in blocked shots with 89.
“Everybody’s important, but D.J.’s got to control the paint, control his emotions,” Del Negro said. “His overall energy in the game can be contagious, good or bad. Last night I thought he was very good. He was active, being big, and made some very nice plays.”
Paul said the most impressive part of Jordan’s dunk over Knight was that he made the free throw that followed. He said Jordan’s impact isn’t always on the stat sheet, that when he rolls to the basket, teams often follow him to prevent a dunk, which opens up the court for three-point shooters like Barnes and Jamal Crawford.
“D.J. is very important,” Paul said. “We’ve been saying it since the beginning of the year. He’s a game changer. He changes guys’ shots in the lane defensively. He’s a big guy.”
The Clippers will need him in the middle when the playoffs begin, but he knows his minutes will probably depend on his free-throw shooting. If he can improve to even 50 percent, it could help him get on the floor when games matter.
That’s when they’ll be able to use his defense.
“At the end of the game, we’ve got to get stops,” he said. “That’s what I try to do to help our team. But the free throw thing is a big deal. As long as I keep practicing and keep getting better at it, hopefully I’ll get a chance to be in there at crunch time and help us win games.”