Beard: Pistons need Jackson to return with flourish

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Charlotte, N.C. — The change in seasons has brought some rain and a little snow.

Reggie Jackson

But the sky isn’t falling. Not yet.

The Pistons are off to a slow start, and their road woes have continued. But the biggest issue has been the absence of their leading scorer, Reggie Jackson, who is working his way back from knee and thumb tendinitis.

When he returns, the Pistons need Jackson to be “Mr. December” to help lift them out of their doldrums, offensively and defensively.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is targeting a return either next week or the following week.

“Overall, we’re sixth in the league defensively, but offensively we haven’t been very good,” Van Gundy said. Tuesday. “As we get more (practice) time, we can reasonably expect we can be a little bit better.

“Plus, Reggie will help our offense be a little better. We’re the only team in the league that’s played without their leading scorer every single game — that tends to affect your offense a little bit.”

The Pistons have played the fourth-toughest schedule in the NBA, with victories over the Clippers and Thunder. But they also have suffered three- and four-game skids.

But, of the 16 games remaining through December, 10 are against teams with .500 or better records, including the Warriors and Cavaliers.

“The schedule is the schedule, something you don’t have any control over,” Van Gundy said. “I’m an optimist and my only point is you can look at some factors that have led to sub-par shooting that you feel like you have a chance to turn around.”

The daunting start to the season and tough schedule puts a premium on Jackson being effective almost immediately, especially with the Pistons sitting in 10th in the East.

Pistons’ Reggie Jackson cleared for full practices

Coming off a 44-win season, the Pistons were pegged as one of the rising teams in the East with the potential to get into the top five come the postseason.

But those expectations took a hit when Jackson was injured.

“Fans acting like injuries to your best players not mattering at all is absurd in this league,” Van Gundy said. “That’s what goes on — injuries play a key role. There’s optimism still. We’ve got a long way to go.

“We’ll see how we can play the last 50-something games of the year (with Jackson). That’s going to be key. We’ll be in a little bit of a hole — farther than we’d like — but that’s the way it goes.”

Jackson’s absence has impacted the 3-point shooting, which is the worst in the league in attempts and makes, and ranks 28th in percentage (.319). His combination of penetration, threat to score and ability to dish to find open shooters is difficult to duplicate.

But rather than lament on not having his best player, Van Gundy looked at what the impact would be for other teams:

“The question I would ask more is where would Charlotte be right now if Kemba Walker hadn’t played a game? Where would Oklahoma City be if Russell Westbrook hadn’t played a game?” Van Gundy said. “That’s the thing. I understand the disappointment with us being under .500, but I’m not down about it.”

For Jackson’s part, he’s just trying not to move too quickly in his rehab and make sure he doesn’t rush himself back.

“I’m feeling good and we got a little experience with me out and trying to find a little identity,” Jackson said Monday. “They’ve battled and played well and continued to play hard and learn each other. I’m happy with our effort and I’m doing everything I can to get back as soon as possible.”

Pistons at Celtics

Tip-off: 7:30 Wednesday, TD Garden, Boston

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: The Pistons are on the second game of a back-to-back while the Celtics had Tuesday. ... The Celtics have won four of their last five. ... Isaiah Thomas is averaging 26 points and 6.4 assists.