HELENE ELLIOTT

DeAndre Jordan promoted as part of 'big three' strategy for Clippers

DeAndre Jordan is being touted along with leaders Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Coach Doc Rivers' faith in the center is paying off.

DeAndre Jordan

Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph, left, knocks the ball away from Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / April 30, 2013)

Two rare or unprecedented sights to look for during the Clippers' upcoming season:

• DeAndre Jordan's image on the cover of the team's media guide with franchise players and acknowledged leaders Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, a statement about what will be expected of the 25-year-old center in his sixth season.

• DeAndre Jordan, in person, on the court during the fourth quarter of tight games.

New Coach Doc Rivers' imprint is on both moves. On the first point, Rivers made it known he wants to promote a "big three" concept rather than focusing on All-Stars Griffin and Paul. On the second point, he believes Jordan is capable of playing during crunch time, even though Jordan was mostly a spectator during that stage last season.

Jordan, who was inconsistent defensively and hit only 38.6% of his free throws last season to rank last among full-time NBA starters, played in all 82 regular-season games but got into the fourth quarter of only 30 of them. He played in two of six fourth quarters in the Clippers' first-round playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

To Rivers, who replaced Vinny Del Negro this summer, that's ancient history, not a guideline to future success.

"I wasn't here last year," Rivers said Thursday when asked about Jordan's limited late minutes last season.

Can Jordan be trusted in the fourth quarter?

"Yeah," Rivers said before the team practiced for its first Staples Center exhibition, on Friday against Portland.

As with most of the team, Rivers is taking a positive approach with Jordan and is showing strong faith in the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center's potential to be a top-notch defender. That approach seems to have succeeded.

"He's been the greatest thing for my career so far, and we've only been together for not even a month," Jordan said. "I can feel that he's going to be really good for my career."

Jordan's outstanding performances in three exhibition games support that. He has averaged 13.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and five blocks per game —- and has made seven of 13 free throws, a 53.8% success rate. His career free-throw percentage is 42.4.

"Defensively, he's just been sensational, and that's what we want him to do. He's been terrific," Rivers said.

"DJ has done exactly what we've asked him to do coming into this season, and that is to be a game-changer on the defensive end, and he's done that. What does he have, 15 blocks in three games? And though the blocks are great, honestly, it's more to me that he's always in the right spot and he's always talking the right language defensively."

Jordan likes Rivers' philosophy about not prejudging what he can — or can't — do.

"Doc is a great coach, and he expects a lot out of me, and I'm definitely going to embrace that challenge," Jordan said. "He believes in me and that only helps me be more confident and believe in myself.

"It's a new year, a new start for everybody, and that's what I'm focused on."

Jordan wants not just to play in the fourth quarter, but to make an impact. If he can do that, the Clippers might be transformed from a group with great individual talent to a team that journeys deep into the playoffs.

"You always feel a little frustrated about it when you can't be out there, helping your teammates in critical moments of the game," Jordan said. "The fourth quarter, when we need stops to ultimately win the game, that's what I feel like it's all about. [Rivers] agrees. He's on the same page with me. I can only embrace that and accept it."

Jordan played down his numbers so far as "just preseason." But he can see something to build on.

"It definitely is a good start toward the season and just kind of keeps my motor going so when the season starts I hit the ground running," he said. "It's just our coaches. They put me in the right spots, offensively and defensively, to be successful. I have to credit a lot of that to them.

"But we have the same team we did last year. We added a few little pieces, but our starting lineup is pretty much the same, especially with the core guys."

The expectations will be different, though. Jordan is prepared to meet them.

"I'm going to come out and play my butt off," he said. "I'm not nervous or timid with the challenge that's going to be put in front of me. I'm going to embrace it, and with his belief in me I can only excel."

Now, that would be a sight to see.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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