Pistons forming solid guard duo
AUBURN HILLS, MICH. — As a comfortable lead turned into a full-scale rout in the fourth quarter, Brandon Jennings was right in the middle of all the action for the Detroit Pistons.
And Reggie Jackson was enjoying the show.
"We're teammates," Jennings said. "Everybody wants us to get to the playoffs, and that's the main goal."
With Jennings back from an Achilles tendon injury, the Pistons have two point guards capable of making a significant contribution. Although there's been understandable trade speculation about Jennings, coach Stan Van Gundy says he wants both him and Jackson to contribute to a playoff push. Monday night's 115-89 victory over Orlando — when Jackson and Jennings combined for 31 points and 13 assists — was an example of how dangerous this team could be if those two are healthy and effective.
Jennings was playing some of his best basketball last January. His 24-point, 21-assist effort against Orlando on Jan. 21 helped Detroit to its 12th win in 15 games, and the Pistons looked capable of making the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Three nights later at Milwaukee, Jennings ruptured his left Achilles tendon. His season was over, and although the Pistons later acquired Jackson in a trade with Oklahoma City, they fell well short of a playoff spot.
Jackson now has a long-term contract with Detroit, so the Pistons are obviously committed to him. Jennings is in the last year of his deal, but Van Gundy said he'd like to have him back.
The 26-year-old Jennings is still working his way back from the injury that kept him out 11 months. He's played four games this season, averaging only 19 minutes, and Monday was the first time he scored more than seven points.
Jennings had 17 points and six assists in the win over the Magic. His 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter put Detroit ahead 88-74, and the Pistons started the fourth with a 19-2 run.
"He continuously pushed the pace, which might be something that most people probably wouldn't look for with that injury that he came off of," Jackson said. "He really was a floor general out there."
Jennings said he wasn't expecting to have that kind of impact this quickly, but Van Gundy was happy with the process he went through before coming back.
"We did a lot of things along the way to make sure he was ready — getting him work in practice, getting full-court work, getting up to play in the D-League," said Van Gundy, who is also team president. "We didn't put him back out there, I don't think, until he felt comfortable to go. But it's still different in an NBA game, and you've got to give him a lot of credit."
Van Gundy now says he's working with the idea of playing Jackson and Jennings together at times, and Jennings can help the Pistons be more effective in transition as they try to keep pace in the Central Division, where they were 5 1/2 games out of the lead after Monday's games.
"I think our fast breaks right now, I think guys are starting to understand where I want the ball, and where to just run the lane," Jennings said.
With Jennings returning to form, Detroit's second unit could become a real asset, and that benefits the entire team. Jennings has rarely come off the bench during his NBA career, but right now, just being back on the court is an accomplishment.
"To watch him be the ultimate professional and do everything he's done to just be effective — and also you know that the role that you're coming into this year is maybe a little different for you and something you're not accustomed to," Jackson said. "But he's doing it with the mindset that whatever we ask him, he's going to do."
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