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DeAndre Jordan remains key to Clippers season

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In a twist of fate, Doc Rivers is going to need a lot from DeAndre Jordan.

Remember the Clippers were willing to ship out Jordan this summer to get Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers — a deal that David Stern killed (you can’t trade players for coaches) but told you exactly what the Clippers think of Jordan. He’s an asset. They like him but they think they can do better.

Now Rivers comes to town expected to lead a Clippers team on the cusp of contention to the Promised Land — this summer they added J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to already one of the league’s most potent offenses.

But that is not the end where Rivers needs Jordan — the key to this Clippers season is their defense and Jordan has to anchor it. Rivers has said he plans to bring a variation of the strong-side overload that Rivers and then assistant Tom Thibodeau used to bring a ring to Boston. But to make that defense work you need a smart rim-protecting big man to anchor it.

Which means Jordan needs to be improved, and he needs to hit his free throws and stay on the court at the end of game (he shot 36 percent last year). Jordan told Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com that is exactly what he’s doing.

Jordan has been working on his free throws daily this offseason with shooting coach Bob Thate, and says it’s slowly becoming second nature.…

“I think it was such a culture shock last year of having to change my shot,” Jordan said. “But what I’ve been doing for the past however many years hasn’t been working so I have to change it. … I’ve been focusing on one shot now and I’m going to shoot that same way and I’m going to get ton of reps up and they’ll start to fall.”

Rivers is a positive guy for the most part and has turned that strategy on Jordan.

“I fit in great with what he wants to do,” Jordan said. “We’ve talked a couple times and he said my role is going to be even bigger than it was last year and I’m excited.”

But will he execute it?

The talent isn’t the question — Jordan had the talent to be one of the young players invited to Team USA’s mini-camp in Las Vegas this summer — but the mental aspects are. Jordan and Blake Griffin need to become a focused force protecting the paint on defense.

Do that and the Clippers are contenders. Don’t and they could get knocked out of the first round like happened last season with the Grizzlies (actually almost swept out as they were up 2-0 in that series and lost four in a row).

It’s not all up to Jordan, but a lot of it is.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: