Dominating on defense and leading the league in rebounding, DeAndre Jordan is in the midst of a career year. Thanks to a newfound confidence instilled by head coach Doc Rivers and the growing pains of surviving life without Chris Paul, DJ and the Clips are on pace for the most successful season in franchise history.
He sat down with Bleacher Report on March 20 to discuss the season so far, the upcoming playoff run and Harvard's wanton destruction of his NCAA bracket.
Bleacher Report: You guys are fresh off an 11-game win streak, dropped a game to Denver on the road, but have basically been the best team in the league (or close to it) since the All-Star Break. What’s the biggest reason for the way you guys have hit your stride lately?
DeAndre Jordan:I think it all started when Chris [Paul] went down. Honestly, we learned how to play without him and everybody had to step up their game, 1-14, on our team. We’ll have to depend on each other throughout the playoffs and we know there will be games when people go down and other guys have to step up.
B/R: A lot was made of Blake taking a step forward offensively with Chris out. During that time, did you feel like the guy who had to push your defense and the team’s defense to compensate for not having your point guard around?
DJ: Yeah, at the beginning of the season, that’s what Doc told me my role was going to be for this team in order for us to excel. And I’ve taken that to heart. Blake and Chris, they’re our offensive guys obviously, and they’re going to carry most of the load offensively. But defensively, we’re all on a string and it’s kind of my domain and I really take pride in it, and so does our whole team.
B/R: This is a different year for you. You didn’t play a lot of fourth quarters last season, probably not as many as you should have played. You mentioned Doc—what’s the biggest thing he’s done for you since coming aboard?
DJ: He just gives everybody, 1-14, confidence to play, and to be out there in clutch situations. He really instills that security in you, and you’re comfortable out there. And everybody, not just me, is playing at a high level because of how much they know he believes in each and every one of us on the team.
B/R: With that confidence, you guys head into the next 14 games trailing OKC by a couple games, and the Spurs by a couple more for the No. 1 seed in the West. So it’s not crazy to think you could make a run at the top spot. Is that a goal?
DJ: Our goal is to just honestly keep getting better as the regular season winds down so we can hit our stride in the postseason. And whatever place we end up finishing as the season ends, we’ll be ready to play our first-round opponent. The goal is to continue the way we’re playing and build on that.
B/R: Being healthy is a big part of you guys having that potential to get better. You had a fully healthy squad at practice with J.J. and Jamal on the floor for the first time in a long time today. How big a factor is that in you guys potentially reaching another level?
DJ: Every team goes through injuries and that’s not an excuse for us because Oklahoma City was without Russell Westbrook for a while, Miami was without Dwyane Wade for a while. So everybody has injuries; it’s part of the game. But that’s when you see how good your team is, when guys have to step into bigger roles when other guys are down. We really want a full, healthy team when the playoffs start so we can reach our full potential. Like I said, when Chris went down everybody knew they were going to have to step up, and they did. But we’ll be ready for whatever comes our way.
B/R: You say everybody has injuries, but you’re actually a guy who doesn’t have them. You know you’re the NBA’s iron man now, right? You know you have that award? Klay Thompson missed a game, so you have the longest streak right now.
DJ: Oh, really? Thanks! I need that. We’ll have to get me a plaque or something.
B/R: What do you attribute your durability to? It’s tough, especially down the stretch of a long season, right?
DJ: Yeah, it’s tough, especially being a big guy. Actually, right now, I’m in LA and I recently partnered with McDavid. For a big guy, my joints and especially my feet and ankles are definitely a big part of my game. Their ankle braces have definitely kept me strong and I’ve gone without tweaking an ankle and being out several games.
B/R: Do you do anything special to stay ready, especially at this point in the year when everybody’s nicked up?
DJ: Before games, sometimes I’ll ice or get in the cold tub for maybe about 10 minutes. But I’m a big guy so I have to keep my muscles loose. So I do a lot of stretching before the game. I’ll do about 10-15 minutes of yoga just to loosen up my body, get warm and get ready to play. That’s about it. And recovery’s a big deal.
B/R: Defensively, you guys have made the biggest advances this year. What’s the biggest change for you, whether it’s scheme, philosophy or responsibilities that are new this year over last year?
DJ: I pretty much have the same role, but it’s just been, you know, advertised more. I’m the same player, Doc has just given me the opportunity to play a lot and make some mistakes and any player with a coach like that is going to play his heart out. I’m the same player I was last year; I’ve just gotten more time and a little bit more leeway to play through some mistakes and just get out there and get more experience.
B/R: Is your bracket busted yet?
DJ: Yeah, as of today when Harvard beat Cincinnati.
B/R: I don’t think you’re alone there.
DJ: Yeah, hopefully everybody else is just as busted—besides the people who go to Harvard.