Why Nuggets teammates want Reggie Jackson to keep shooting

MIAMI — The backcourt that shepherded Denver to consecutive road wins in Miami during last year’s NBA Finals was waiting to check back into the game, waiting to send Heat fans marching toward the exits once again. Clutch time is when the Nuggets’ starters thrive.

But these two starters decided they’d rather let the backup backcourt do the honors.

After a barrage of Reggie Jackson jumpers, Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went to coach Michael Malone and told him to keep Jackson and Christian Braun in the game. Malone obliged, and the Nuggets kept pulling away for a 100-88 win that they hope will be important for reasons that transcend their temporary, solitary claim to first place in the West.

Jackson needed a new dose of confidence.

“I’ve been in a crazy slump,” he said.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Braun scored seven critical points during Nikola Jokic’s rest minutes to protect a slim lead. Then Jackson took over, scoring from 17, 15 and 26 feet on three consecutive possessions in a span of 1:12 to double Denver’s lead and force an Erik Spoelstra timeout.

“I had Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the scorer’s table during that stretch. And this speaks a lot about our group,” Malone said. “Both those guys said to me, ‘Coach, let Reggie ride. Let CB ride. This group is playing well.’ And part of our culture — because we do have a culture in Denver as well — part of our culture is being selfless. Getting over yourself. And I think that’s another example of how our team is always getting over the individual, thinking about the collective. Really happy for Reggie Jackson.”

Malone was not-so-subtly throwing shade at Miami’s “Heat Culture” mantra in his postgame comments, but his proud advocacy for Nuggets Culture was validated by the team’s reaction to Jackson’s heat check.

“You could see it transpire on the court. That was the cool part,” Jackson told The Denver Post. “I’ve been playing long enough. You see a lot of things the older you get. You witness it. I knew my minutes were kind of up. I knew Jamal was supposed to come on the court. … And then I see Jamal motioning to Coach, like, ‘Keep him in. Let him play.’ I saw Pope doing the same thing for C.B. So that was a really cool moment for C.B. and myself.”

For Jackson in particular, the vote of confidence was revitalizing. In the first 30 games of the season, he averaged 13.2 points on 48.6% shooting, including 38.1% from 3-point range. He led the Nuggets to a handful of wins in November when Murray was out with a strained hamstring. In the next 35 games entering this matchup, Jackson shot 38.7% from the floor and 30.9% from outside, averaging only 7.4 points and scoring in double figures only 10 times.

After the win in Miami, he has still gone a season-long 10 consecutive games without touching double digits, but seven of his nine points Wednesday were scored during the game-clinching burst.

He says his teammates have been urging him to take those shots despite the drop in efficiency.

“They want me to continue to be myself. Continue to be aggressive. They’ve been kind of upset at me for not playing my game the last few,” Jackson said. “So then I started playing aggressive. Even still in the midst of missing shots. I think I had a 1-for-9 night. I had like a 1-for-7. But just hearing the encouragement from my teammates … once you have a great group like that — front office, coaches, teammates — believing in you like that, you can’t do anything but start believing in yourself again. So like I said: Hit a slump. Had some dark days. Tough days. But having that encouragement has made it easier to come out here and keep attacking, keep pushing ahead and just live with the results.”

Jackson’s defining quality is his one-on-one scoring capability. There have been flashes in recent games when he puts the moves on an opposing guard but simply misses the shot he generates.

“That’s the annoying part,” he said. “I think the reassuring part is that I can still get to a spot and get to a shot. So that’s always the best part. I think once I’m not able to get to a shot, that would be a little worrisome. That’s probably when you’ve gotta hang it up. … Just knowing I can still get there. And now it’s on me to go ahead and continue to get in the gym and find a way to complete the play. So that’s really what I’ve been trying to focus on. Footwork. Having my confidence down, and just continuing to trust in the reps, trust in the work.”

Jackson’s rotations have changed recently. He’s not sharing the floor with Murray much anymore, after a stretch of games in which Malone tried a variation of the second unit that deployed both point guards at the same time. Instead, Justin Holiday is filling the extra backcourt spot in that lineup; Jackson is subbing back in with Jokic to give Murray a brief rest. That’s why Jackson was on the floor as a competitive NBA Finals rematch entered the last five minutes.

First appeared on www.denverpost.com

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