Beard: Daring Jackson needs to take next step now

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Reggie Jackson

Chicago — Reggie Jackson started the celebration a little early. With 1.1 seconds left against Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, he began waving his arms and dancing around the court, getting The Palace crowd on their feet.

He mouthed some things to his former Thunder teammates and made a show of it, in his new home arena, in front of his home fans.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook didn’t like it, calling it “bull(crap)” and foreshadowing some good theater for their next meeting — next season.

Former MVP Kevin Durant added fuel to the fire Thursday, tossing not only Jackson but “Detroit” into the fray. Whether Durant, who sat out and opted for rest over playing, meant Detroit the city or the Pistons is ambiguous, but he helped line up a few more fans behind Jackson.

“I wanted to play against Detroit, for sure, but you know, it’s Detroit,” Durant said. “Who cares about Detroit?”

If Durant was talking about the Pistons, he was absolutely right. The Pistons haven’t done enough this season to warrant a second glance from the casual NBA fan. They haven’t mattered in NBA circles since the “Goin’ to Work” era.

The only ways to move the needle in the NBA are to have a superstar, win or be a villain.

The Pistons have been none of those since at least 2009.

Making a push to crack .500 and possibly get into the playoffs is the first step to some relevance. If the Thunder were playing the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs or Cleveland Cavaliers, Durant would have donned his No. 35 jersey and posted about 30 points. Guaranteed.

But because the Pistons are a fair-to-middling squad, the Thunder had the luxury of resting their superstar — and still almost pulled out a victory in the final minutes.

Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson fired back at Durant: “If he wanted to have an effect on the game, he should have just played. No one’s scared of playing (the Thunder) on this side of town.

“Next year, we have two games scheduled; for me, it’s circled on my schedule from now on. We’re something to play with. We can be a playoff team; you have to respect that. By saying that, he disrespected our whole team.”

The Pistons at least answered and stood up to the perceived disrespect. But they’re still young and inexperienced, both in playoff resume and in being on the big stage. Jackson has an ax to grind because of the way he left Oklahoma City and the preceding months were not pretty, with his wanting to run his own team.

Now, Jackson has that chance and as he grows into his role, the Pistons have a better chance to be a contender.

“We’re just trying to win and be good. If people talk about us, they talk about us,” Jackson said. “Oh, well … you can’t really control it; just continue to be ourselves, compete and come out here and rack up wins.

“I don’t think anybody likes us. That’s pretty much how it is. It’s still (Detroit versus Everybody). That’s still how our mentality is.”

In their short time in Detroit, Jackson, Johnson and their teammates have picked up on the disrespect card. In his romp around the court and in front of the Thunder bench, Jackson made a big statement that the Pistons were ready to take that next step forward.

Now, they’ll have to back it up with their play on the court — in the postseason this year, and beyond.

Twitter @detnewsRodBeard