By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After years of playing the third wheel in a trio of standouts DeAndre Jordan has quietly become the backbone of a Los Angeles Clippers team eager to keep their window of contention from slamming shut.
With Chris Paul aging and Blake Griffin ailing, it's Jordan's seven-foot disruption in the paint that is now the franchise's most dependable asset.
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"(Jordan) is a beast," Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel told reporters after his team's loss to the Clippers on Wednesday.
"The shooters they have on the floor ... you bring attention to them and it leaves DeAndre open on the glass. This is why they are a good basketball team, they have a lot of weapons."
Jordan, 28, has long been the weapon most taken for granted in Los Angeles. A two-time NBA All-Defensive team member who twice lead the league in rebounds, Jordan's skill set rarely makes headlines.
Feeling underappreciated, Jordan memorably agreed to sign with Dallas in 2015 before the Clippers managed to woo him back.
On Wednesday, Jordan passed Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal with his 36th career 20-rebound game and moved into a tie with Kevin Garnett for ninth on the all-time list.
"It is an honor to be in the same category as those guys in accomplishing something,” Jordan said. "But I want to be in the same category with them with the (championship) ring."
Beyond averaging double figures in points (11.8) and rebounds (13.7) this season, it is Jordan's attrition that the team could not live without.
Jordan, who won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. men's basketball team in Rio last year, has missed five games in the last 4-1/2 seasons, critical for a group that have often seen their playoff hopes derailed by injury.
With their current core of stars the Clippers, fourth in the Western Conference, have never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.
Jordan, now in his ninth season, represents the Clippers' alluring potential but frustrating ceiling with critics saying he has no consistent offense beyond alley-oop finishes and put-backs.
The Clippers hired Garnett to work with the team's big men and are hopeful his 26,000 career points can rub off on Jordan.
“(Garnett) has some things he did offensively that can help Jordan," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. "They both have a great amount of intensity that they bring to the game. Kevin had the best habits on off days, and every day. “That can help as well."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)