The other Clipper keys: DeAndre Jordan and Baron Davis

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Blake Griffin is a walking highlight factory. And not just for his dunks anymore, people are figuring out he can play the game.

Eric Gordon has become the outside to Griffin’s inside for the Clippers. He’s the guy knocking down key threes — just like he did for Team USA when they were winning the gold at the FIBA World Championships. He is big time.

They are the face of the Clippers resurgence and return to relevance. They are the national media darlings.

But two other Clippers deserve to be mentioned as a central of what is going on — center DeAndre Jordan and guard Baron Davis. Without them, Gordon and Griffin would be the stars of a team still losing nightly, not winning 10 of 14.

For the first half of last season, center Chris Kaman was the guy the Clippers ran their offense through (and he rode that to the All-Star Game). Jordan was his amazingly athletic but wildly inconsistent backup.

With Kaman out this season due to a severely sprained ankle, Jordan has been thrust into the starting lineup — and he has developed into a defensive force. After the Clippers beat the Heat recently, Miami coach Eric Spoelstra as well as several players continually used Jordan’s name next to Griffin’s, saying the Clippers had the most athletic front line in the league and it was hard to deal with. Phil Jackson singled Jordan out as the reason the Clippers were playing so well when those two teams met last Sunday.

The Clippers players have seen the growth in Jordan also, as they told the Los Angeles Times.

“Oh man, [Jordan] is the reason why we’ve been such a hot team,” Davis said. “A lot of the things he’s able to do on the defensive end allows us to be a great defensive team. That 41%, our field-goal percentage, that credit goes to him. He’s our anchor.

“For a young guy, 22 years old, to be able to be back there and anchor that defense, it is amazing to see his growth and his progress. Just that confidence we have in him.”

Davis himself is the other key.

Everybody has known Davis can flat out ball. Everyone remembers when he led the Golden State Warriors to a first-round upset of the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. Everyone remembers the streaks of brilliance through his career.

But those streaks have been surrounded by much longer stretches of disappointment, particularly in recent years. Questions of motivation and conditioning — which has led to a long string of injuries — had turned Davis into a non-factor in Los Angeles. One that owner Donald Sterling loved to taunt from the front row.

Those things have changed. Right now, Davis passes the eyeball test — when talking to him with other media after a recent Clippers game my initial thought was I couldn’t remember the last time he looked this thin. He is fit right now as he worked out while down with an injury earlier in the year (he also said he started getting in shape for the season earlier than his traditional August start date, realizing his body is getting older).

And he is motivated. Credit the energy Griffin and Gordon bring to the team, credit Davis’ maturity, credit Zeus, it doesn’t matter. The fact is Davis is motivated and giving the Clippers fantastic point guard play. Gone are the pull-up three pointers with 18 seconds left on the clock and the pounding out the clock dribbling with nothing happening. Right now he is driving into the lane, creating, setting up teammates.

In his last 10 games Davis is averaging 14.6 points on 45.7 percent shooting, plus 8.4 dimes per game. He is again a guy that must be accounted for in game planning. He is again disruptive, and that is opening up lanes for Griffin to dunk.

The next months will be the real test for the Clippers — their friendly schedule (they have not left California in nearly a month) will end when they have to head out on the road for 11 straight on the annual Grammys road trip. Teams are not looking past them any more — if for no other reason than they don’t want to end up in a Griffin SportsCenter highlight.

But those teams better watch out for Jordan and Davis, too. They are helping drive this train.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.