Amid a vortex of tough news, a glimmer of hope for Pistons on the Jackson front

Stan Van Gundy hopes Reggie Jackson can return to practice sometime next week before the Pistons embark on a 6-game road trip.
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

TORONTO – There was a sliver of good news that came out of the Pistons 0-2 road trip that saw them lose a little more of their already tenuous grip on the outside rail of the playoff race.

Before Sunday’s game at Charlotte, Reggie Jackson not only went through his paces in shooting drills but also engaged in defensive shuffle drills that demand the lateral movement required for him to take the next step in his recovery from a grade 3 ankle sprain.

He worked out again before Monday’s loss at Toronto, though out of public view on a practice court inside Air Canada Centre. Stan Van Gundy said a realistic goal would be to get Jackson back to practice sometime next week in time for him to possibly be available when the Pistons embark on the season’s longest road trip, six games starting March 13 at Utah.

“He is progressing,” Van Gundy said before Monday’s game. “We’re hopeful that those practices before the West Coast trip that we’ll get him back. I think anything earlier than that would be an unexpected bonus.”

The Pistons won’t practice Tuesday after playing back-to-back games – and not landing back in Oakland County until after 5 a.m. when their flight of Toronto was delayed for mechanical reasons – and they host Milwaukee on Wednesday. Their next practice comes Thursday before they hit the road for three games in four days. They’ll likely have three practices over the six days before leaving for Utah – that’s as many as they’ve been able to squeeze in since Blake Griffin joined the team nearly four weeks ago – and it would be the likely window to ease Jackson’s reintegration.

The Pistons badly need a jolt on offense. And even if it’s unlikely Jackson returns at full strength for the final 16 games – that’s how many are left to start the six-game road trip – it will be useful for Van Gundy to gauge how the Pistons play with their preferred starting lineup before they hit the off-season and assess needs and future direction.

While the Pistons remain No. 8 in the NBA in 3-point percentage, their efficiency from the arc has been in a dive. They were at 38 percent when Jackson went down on Dec. 26 and still at 37.7 percent before the trade that sent Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, two of their top 3-point shooters, to the Los Angeles Clippers for Griffin. Since that deal, the Pistons in 11 games have shot just 34.2 percent from the 3-point arc.

As their offense has struggled, it’s led to defensive breakdowns. That’s in part because it’s always easier to play defense if the other team has to start possessions by inbounding the ball rather than rebounding and getting in transition, but also in part due to frustration over their offensive inefficiency, Van Gundy feels. In the critical stretch of Monday’s loss to Toronto – a 14-0 Raptors run in a span of less than three minutes early in the second half – the Pistons missed five shots of dubious quality and turned it over twice.

“We had I think five really bad offensive possessions that led to buckets the other way,” Van Gundy said. “Turnovers and really, really bad, tough, quick shots. They got into us. We didn’t move the ball at all, which I thought we did a pretty good job of in the first half – even though we didn’t shoot the ball well – and we just gave them easy opportunities in transition.”

Getting their best offensive creator back, even if Jackson doesn’t have his peak passing gear immediately, has to help the offense and, in turn, help the staggered Pistons defense. At the very least, it will give Van Gundy a glimpse into what he might expect next season and give Jackson and Griffin a chance to get a feel for each other’s games.