New starting Heat power forward P.J. Tucker has grown comfortable taking on the less-heralded dirty work necessary for contending clubs to thrive, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“If you want recognition, then my job isn’t a job for you,” Tucker said. “I don’t do highlights. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me.” A 36-year-old veteran, Tucker most recently served as a key three-and-D contributor on the 2021 champion Bucks before signing a two-year, $15MM deal with the Heat in free agency. In 13 games with Miami, Tucker is averaging 6.2 PPG and 6.5 RPG. The 8-5 Heat are currently the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“He’s just a winning player,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Tucker. “You’ll notice it when he’s on the other team’s best player defensively. But it’s the block-outs, it’s the rotations, it’s the protect-side defense, and then offensively just getting people open constantly. And he does it in every way possible, whether he’s screening pick-and-roll basketball or off-ball screening. He’s just elite in helping guys get open.”
There’s more out of the Southeast Division:
- Wizards forwards Kyle Kuzma and Deni Avdija are building a quick chemistry both on the hardwood and beyond it, per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. “I think that he does a great job defending, that’s the No. 1 thing I love about him,” Kuzma said of Avdija. “He’ll mix it up, he’ll defend. He’s coachable, you can talk to him, he receives things. He’s a very sweet kid, a very sweet kid.” Surprisingly, the new-look Wizards have emerged with an Eastern Conference-leading 9-3 record to start the season, and the team’s depth around All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal is a big reason why. “He’s very professional, he loves the game and likes to work extra,” Avdija said of Kuzma. “Guys that like to work and want to do extra shots or extra work, I’m always getting along with them because I’ve got that mindset, too.”
- New additions Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma have brought a relentlessness to an improved Wizards team, writes Spencer Davies of Basketball News. “They were around in September, so we didn’t wait ’til the first official day of training camp to say, ‘Hey, let’s start putting in work,'” new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “Those guys were trying to play together, do a small side of [pickup] games, get workouts [in], finding ways to be on the floor and build that chemistry. So it’s paid off for us thus far.” Kuzma explained why he and Harrell appear to be helping contribute to wins right away. “We know how to win in this league. Trezz has always been an underdog his whole entire career being a second-round pick and fighting his way through the G League and all the way to being the Sixth Man [of the Year].”
- Though the rebuilding 3-10 Magic are currently the lowest-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, Austin David of the Orlando Sentinel contends that the team’s young players are showing plenty of promise. Orlando may be struggling to score consistently, but intriguing prospects like point guard Cole Anthony, rookie wing Franz Wagner and even big man Mohamed Bamba have given fans plenty to watch thus far. “We’re a young team that won’t take anything from anybody,” an optimistic Bamba said. “We just want to be a smash-mouth team, making winning plays for not only themselves, but for each other. It’s truly a domino effect.”