After a bumpy March, Josh Jackson roars into April like a lion to lead Pistons past Wizards
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
The healthy return of Killian Hayes is the most obvious and important thing the Pistons hope to get accomplished over the final six weeks of the NBA season. If there’s no clear No. 2 agenda item, getting Josh Jackson right is at least a worthy candidate.
One big step down that path was exercised on April 1. No foolin’.
After a rocky March, Jackson welcomed April with open arms. He scored a season-high 31 points, survived a hard-fall scare just before halftime and broke out of a shooting slump that had seen him make just 18.8 percent of his 3-point shots over his past 20 games.
“We kept running plays for him and putting him in situations where he was going to get the ball,” Dwane Casey said after Jackson hit 13 of 21 shots and 4 of 7 3-pointers in the 120-91 win. “You just have a feel when a guy like that gets it going. Our players recognized that with Josh and were willing to move the ball and find him.”
March was the cruelest month for Jackson. After scoring in double figures in 14 of 15 games going into the All-Star break, Jackson – who missed two games with an illness around that time – had scored 10 points or more only four times in 10 games since. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.0 rebounds a game in February, then 9.4 and 3.1 in March.
“I just saw a couple of open shots, shots that I’ve worked on before and I’ve made before and I just took ’em tonight,” Jackson said. “They were falling. Took ’em without thinking. My teammates, they saw I hit a few shots in a row and when guys do that, they try to go to them and that’s what they did tonight. They did a good job of finding me open and setting screens to get me open. It did make it easy for me.”
Jackson had an especially frustrating night just 24 hours earlier to see March out the door, going scoreless in 19 minutes and missing all five of his shots. It didn’t look like April was going to be any better for him based on early indications. A minute into the game, Jackson had a 3-point shot from the left wing that Washington begged him to take – there wasn’t a Wizards defender within 15 feet of him – and he badly missed.
He passed up an open three shortly thereafter, but got on the board with an easy 6-footer three minutes into the game, converted a Russell Westbrook turnover into a dunk another minute after that and shifted into overdrive from there. He scored 14 in the first quarter and had 19 by halftime – with the Pistons, not so coincidentally, leading by 19.
“Sometimes you miss your first couple of shots and think, ‘Awww, it’s going to be a tough night,’ ” professional shooter Wayne Ellington said, returning to the lineup after a calf injury with 11 points and 3 of 6 3-point marksmanship. “Next thing you know you get out on a break, get a couple of easy ones, see the ball go in and next thing you know, it’s like throwing rocks in the ocean. It was great to see Jax do that tonight.”
Jackson is a terror in transition and even in the half court his ability to get to the rim is upper tier, but when the threat of his jump shot is empty everything becomes a little more complicated. The Pistons acquired a reasonable facsimile of Jackson last month in Hamidou Diallo – who sat out Thursday, the Pistons remaining cautious with the groin injury that sidelined him for more than a month before his debut in their uniform last week – and if they can pair them in lineups, the defensive havoc they could create would be epic.
But that will depend on one or both becoming more accurate and, in Diallo’s case, more frequent 3-point shooters. When that happens, there’s definitely enough room for both in Casey’s rotation even with the number of young players vying to cement a spot in the rotation. Frank Jackson is another who put a good foot forward against Washington, contributing 13 of the bench’s 45 points by hitting 4 of 6 shots and 2 of 3 from the 3-point line.
Seven players scored in double figures in a top-to-bottom effort that reflected the disappointment Casey and his team felt with their lopsided loss at Washington last week when they trailed by 25 at halftime.
“I think we came out with the right mindset, first and foremost,” Ellington said. “we were really disappointed with the way we came out last time against these guys in D.C., so we wanted to make sure we changed that. I heard guys talk so much more tonight. The verbal part was huge for us. It was just a total team effort. We were there for each other. We showed up.”
Nobody more so than Josh Jackson. Welcome to April.