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Wild roller-coaster ride continues for Pistons' Jackson

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills – — Reggie Jackson was in an unfamiliar position late in the second half of the Pistons’ improbable comeback on Thursday night: on the bench.

For 20 minutes of game time, he cheered on backup Ish Smith from the final minutes of the third quarter, through the fourth quarter and the overtime period.

The roller-coaster ride for Jackson, who was an integral contributor in the victory over the Mavericks just before the All-Star break, continues. Thursday, he found himself struggling again, going 1-of-6 from the field, with just four points in 20 minutes, with a minus-14 rating.

Smith scored just five points, but had a career-best 16 assists in 33 minutes. It’s becoming a more commonplace occurrence for Smith to get extended minutes, especially when he’s playing well down the stretch and Jackson is scuffling to find his shot and effectiveness.

Coach Stan Van Gundy also has been vexed with how to handle the situation, placing the premium on winning, but also looking to help Jackson find his mojo.

“He’s been trying defensively; offensively, we’ve got to find an answer. I know he’s frustrated with me — play calls and things like that. We’re going to have to find something where can play more effectively and productively on the offensive end of the court,” Van Gundy said.

“He and I will do some talking about that and see if we can keep plugging ahead. He was effective in the Dallas game and we have to find ways to make it better.”

In 10 games in February, Jackson is averaging 9.4 points and 5.5 assists and when he has struggled, Van Gundy has leaned more on Smith to finish out games.

In some ways, it’s been a difficult transition, but Van Gundy emphasized that he’s still confident in Jackson — as shown by not making a deal before Thursday’s trade deadline — and just trying to work to get him back to where he was before knee tendinitis sidelined Jackson for the first 21 games of the season.

The offensive philosophy has changed some, with less reliance on Jackson’s signature play, the pick-and-roll, and more on spreading the offensive opportunities around to other players.

“He’s a pick-and-roll player — it’s the game he wants to play. He’s frustrated that we’re not playing enough of it,” Van Gundy said. “We aren’t playing as much of it because it hasn’t been effective. It’s sort of a (chicken-versus-egg proposition).

“We need to get to a point where we’re playing better out of that. That’s not all on him — that’s me and teammates and that’s him. It’s all of us trying to find the answer to where he’s playing better and we’re getting the most out of his abilities.”

To his credit, Jackson sulked through the struggles or let it affect his ability or cheer for his teammates, especially during a thrilling comeback such as Thursday’s win.

After being the leading scorer last season and taking the reins as the leader of the offense, taking a step back is something mentally that Jackson will have to overcome. He spent some extra time in the practice facility on Friday afternoon to try to hone his skills and work through the issues.

While Smith has been good in a larger role, with increased minutes, it’s not the long-term answer that the Pistons are looking for. Van Gundy maintains that if they are going to make a run in the final 24 games and into the playoffs, Jackson likely will have to work through his woes be a part of that.

“He’s trying to make a major adjustment and it’s frustrating for him that it’s not going the way he would like,” Van Gundy said. “He’s trying to find his way but he’s working (hard) at it, putting in the time and his attitude has been great. The last 10 games, we’re winning so he’s stuck with it.

“Down the road, we’re going to need more out of him. It’s not all him — he’s got to play better but his teammates have got to find ways to help him and I certainly have to find some things that will help him be more productive.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/RodBeard