Reggie Jackson is the Clippers’ x-factor

(News4usonline) – If the NBA playoffs were to begin today, the Los Angeles Clippers would be in with their No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. These are not the expectations the Clippers had in mind going into the NBA 2021-22 season. But it’s a reality that the Clippers might not see Kawhi Leonard the rest of the season.

Leonard has not played at all this season after tearing his ACL during last year’s playoffs and remains on the MIA watch list. Running mate Paul George is dealing with his own injury, an elbow malady that has sidelined him for over a month.

The team is holding out hope that both Leonard and George will return at some point this season to make a deep run in the postseason as they did last season. That’s the tricky part. Last season, behind Leonard and George, the Clippers went all the way to the Western Conference Championship round, where they fell to the Phoenix Suns.

In order to have something of a chance to make some noise in the postseason, the Clippers have to be in the playoff mix among the teams in the Western Conference.  

To stay in contention for a playoff berth, the Clippers made a startling trade that sent Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, and Keon Johnson to the Portland Trail Blazers, along with a future second-round draft pick in exchange for Norman Powell and Robert Covington.

Reggie Jackson of the Clippers goes to the basket
June 26, 2021-Reggie Jackson of the Los Angeles Clippers goes to the rack in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns defeated the Clippers, 84-80. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“Norm is a two-way player who can score from all three levels, spread the floor with his shooting and guard multiple positions with his length and versatility,” Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said. “He was part of a championship team in Toronto before joining the Blazers. Norm has SoCal roots, having grown up in San Diego and starred at UCLA, and we’re thrilled to bring him back.

Parting ways was not an easy decision for Frank or the Clippers.

“Eric is a model teammate and was a rock for us this season: running the offense, defending the ball and attacking the rim,” said Frank. “Every night, he answered the call, helping us remain competitive even when shorthanded.”

The addition of both Powell and Covington is expected the Clippers a boost in scoring and on the defensive end. That is something that Covington brings to the table, Frank said.  

“Robert is a proven vet, a versatile wing and an excellent team defender who also stretches the floor with his shooting,” added Frank. 

Frank is Desperately in need of others to step up while missing their two All-NBA players, the Clippers have received solid contributions from Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Luke Kennard, and Reggie Jackson in their absence.

February 3, 2022. Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson drops 25 points on Anthony Davis (3) and the Los Angeles Lakers in a 111-110 win at Crypto.com Arena. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline
February 3, 2022. Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) drops 25 points on Anthony Davis (3) and the Los Angeles Lakers in a 111-110 win at Crypto.com Arena. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline

In the meantime, the team has played well enough to keep the team in playoff contention. Anything could happen when and if the Clippers superstars return. Holding things down at the moment has been Jackson.  

Often overlooked throughout his career, Jackson, who is averaging 16.6 points per game, has been the engine for the Clippers’ offense ever since George went down. If Jackson goes, so do the Clippers.

In the games that George has missed since the injury, the Clippers have a record of 13-16 mark in 29 games they have played without him, according to StatMuse. The Clippers are a better team when Jackson scores. The team is less effective when he does not.

A case in point would be the Clippers’ 137-113 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on their home floor. Jackson scored just 10 points in the defeat. Jackson averages more points per game when the Clippers win than when they lose since he has taken over the offense.

“I’m just the recipient of it,” Jackson said after posting 19 points and 9 assists in the Clippers’ 102-101 win against the Philadelphia 76ers. “Really, I’m just trying to get downhill and trying to make the right read, but it’s hat off to my teammates, they are making my reads and everything else easy for me.”

With Leonard and George on the floor, Jackson can be a secondary playmaker. Both players can easily create their own shots, allowing Jackson to be aggressive in spurts. Without them, it leaves Jackson as one of the only players on the team that can consistently get himself open looks.

A good example of this took place when the Clippers played the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 3. With the game hanging in the balance, Jackson scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to give his team a 111-110 win against the Lakers at Crypto.com Arena. It was a driving layup by Jackson with 4.1 seconds left in the game that provided the winning margin for the Clippers.   

Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson
Los Angeles guard Reggie Jackson (1) has improved his play and minutes this season to become an instrumental part of Tyronn Lue’s rotation. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“[Lakers head coach] Frank [Vogel] ran a hell of a play out of the time out with an AD [Anthony Davis] lob. That was a really nice play,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “It put them up 1 point. We knew we didn’t have any timeouts, so we said we want to put [Trevor] Ariza in action if they score. So, Terance Mann did a good job of running up and setting the pick and Reggie was able to turn the corner and get downhill.”

If the Clippers want to keep pace with the rest of the teams in the always deep Western Conference, Jackson must be in attack mode. He has been an underrated scorer for much of his time in the NBA.

Later on in the season, Jackson will likely not have to carry as heavy of a load if George returns to the lineup, so now is his time to keep the team afloat while waiting for the reinforcements to return.

One of Jackson’s best games of the season came in the Clippers’ 139-133 win against the Indiana Pacers in January. Jackson didn’t shoot the ball well from three-point land, but he was able to get the foul line 14 times, making 13 of his free throws. Jackson wound up with 26 points in the win.  

“I thought his pace was really good, attacking and getting downhill,” Lue said of Jackson. “By him attacking and playing like that and spraying it out to make the right pass. I think his pace is really what changed the game for us.”  

Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Clippers guard going to the basket against the Milwaukee Buks in an NBA game played at Crypto.om Arena. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline