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Tucker among several players stepping up while injuries have decimated the Heat

The Heat have survived a tough stretch thanks in large part to P.J. Tucker.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Early in the 2020-21 season, a plethora of Miami Heat players — including Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — entered health and safety protocols before a road game at the Philadelphia 76ers. Miami only had the minimum eight active players available. The shorthanded Heat built a 78-65 lead in the third quarter, but the Sixers came back and won in overtime. Miami fell to 4-5 on the season and struggled for the next month, falling to 7-14.

Last night, the Heat also had a skeleton crew in an away game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Just 10 Miami players were available; Butler and Adebayo again sat out. But this time, Miami built a 23-point lead in the third quarter and held on to defeat the Sixers 101-96.

Something’s different this year.

Adebayo missed only eight games last season; he’s already missed 11 games this year. The Heat’s injury (and health-and-safety protocol) woes have been worse this year than last. And yet this team has withstood the adversity it’s faced much better than last year’s squad.

Just eight days ago, this Heat season looked to be careening off-course. Miami had lost four of their last five games, including home blowouts to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies. Of course, the Heat’s two best players in Butler and Adebayo were out, so fans have to adjust their expectations. But getting blown out at home is never a good sign.

And then the Heat rode a career night from Martin, who is on a two-way contract, to shock the Milwaukee Bucks. Martin then entered health and safety protocols, but the Heat then blew out a Chicago Bulls team that was also depleted.

I can’t emphasize enough how much P.J. Tucker has done to keep the Heat afloat during this tough stretch. Tucker hit two crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter last night and has continued to display his offensive versatility with his rolls to the basket and assists.

That’s not even getting into his top-tier defense. As Couper Moorhead mentioned in a great profile on Tucker, the 6-foot-5 forward allows just .71 points per possession in defending isolations when the ball-handler doesn’t pass out and allows .91 points per pick when defending the pick-and-roll. Tucker’s been repeatedly snubbed from the NBA’s All-Defensive Team; voters shouldn’t overlook him again.

On top of that, Tucker has also mentored Duncan Robinson, who went through a lengthy slump to start the season, and KZ Okpala, who has needed it.

And now Miami is 17-12, with an easy schedule to wrap up 2021. The Heat will play the 5-24 Orlando Magic and the 4-22 Detroit Pistons twice apiece before the New Year. Even with Adebayo’s extended absence, the Heat still should be in good shape to make a run when he (and Victor Oladipo) return.