Clippers will again rely on Reggie Jackson to fill a void

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Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, left, shoots as Houston Rockets guard D.J. Augustin defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 126-109. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Clippers guard Reggie Jackson pulls up for a jump shot over Rockets guard D.J. Augustin in a win over the Rockets on Friday night at Staples Center. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Benched and with his minutes cut just 10 games into this season, Reggie Jackson’s role in the Clippers’ backcourt was unclear in January.

What was evident in recent weeks has become underscored since starting guard Patrick Beverley fractured his hand Thursday, an injury that will sideline him at least three weeks: Where Jackson was once replaceable, the veteran is now invaluable.

After the 6-foot-3 guard scored 26 points and tied his career high with six three-pointers Friday in a 126-109 win against Houston, coach Tyronn Lue said Jackson will remain the team’s starting guard “for the long haul while we are waiting on Pat to return.”

“We need him to continue to score, being aggressive and attacking the basket and making plays for other guys as well,” Lue said.

Since a four-game stretch last month against Dallas, Charlotte, Atlanta and San Antonio in which he averaged 6.0 points, 2.0 assists and shot 37% overall and 30% on three-pointers, Jackson has averaged 16.1 points, 3.5 assists and shot 50% from long range in his last nine games.

“I think I'm just more playing aggressive and playing reactionary to what the defense gives me, so whether it be a shot or whether it be a pass, I'm more less in my own head,” Jackson said.

That was a factor when Beverley returned Tuesday against Portland for his first action in three weeks, at the same time as trade-deadline acquisition Rajon Rondo joined the guard rotation, too, “we still played Reggie and tightened the role he was going to be in,” Lue said. “Now the circumstances are different, but he has always stayed ready.”

In the six weeks between now and the postseason’s start, the Clippers’ championship hopes rest not only on Beverley’s health but also on the improvement of other players' physical setbacks — the bone bruise in Paul George’s right foot that has pained him since early February, the back injury that has sidelined Serge Ibaka for the last month, and an adductor injury that has made the Clippers cautious playing Rondo on consecutive nights.

With those absences come opportunities for others.

Playing 36 minutes Friday, after playing half that combined in his last two games while Lue tried new rotation combinations to get Beverley and Rondo back up to speed, Mann tied his career high with nine assists against Houston.

Though the Clippers have pulled the plug on last season’s attempt to use Mann, who played primarily off the ball at Florida State, to initiate the offense, they still want to harness his knack for making plays, Lue said. Mann credited his nine assists, which led to 21 Clippers points, to more film study.

“Watching film, seeing things differently, seeing different gaps, different ways to get my teammates open and myself open,” Mann said.

Though the team temporarily filled its 15th and final roster spot Friday by signing forward Malik Fitts, a training camp invitee who subsequently played for the Clippers’ G League affiliate, to a 10-day contract, the team is expected to remain active in scouring the free-agent market for point guards who could be used as insurance against an injury to Jackson, Mann or Luke Kennard.

The 10-day contract of center DeMarcus Cousins is halfway done as well. The contract reached its midway point Friday, as Cousins scored three points in six minutes against his former team, though Lue hopes Cousins will be retained longer; a second 10-day contract is an option. If the team wanted to keep him beyond a second deal, it would be required to sign him through the season’s end.

“A guy like this, with the talent that he has, it would be great to be on our team,” Lue said. “I just think he’s done a good job. He’s come in every day, played five-on-five with the young guys, try to stay ready. Come early, stayed late every day, just working on the plays trying to pick them up. With Serge being out, needing a bigger body for bigger players that we are going to play, I think he can make a huge impact for our team.”

UP NEXT

VS. DETROIT

When: 7 p.m., Sunday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Pistons will be coming off a game Saturday in Portland. Detroit hasn’t won consecutive games since March 19. Since then, it is 4-7. Entering the game against the Trail Blazers, the Pistons had shot better than 50% in three consecutive games for the first time in two seasons. Detroit rookie Saddiq Bay, who turned 22 Friday, has averaged 10.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists while making nearly 38% of the six three-pointers he takes per game.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.