PHOENIX, Ariz. — Since Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker held James Harden to 14 points last week, more than 10 points below his season average, the Houston Rockets star (and former ASU Sun Devil) has scored 34 and 27 points.
Since Tucker contained Rudy Gay to 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting, the Toronto Raptors star has, well, been traded to Sacramento as part of a seven-player deal.
“That’s like the fourth time I’ve heard that,” Tucker said Monday. “Rudy is my guy. I would never get my guy traded. That’s funny.”
Tucker’s defense has been anything but funny, at least to those he’s guarding.
The third-year pro earned a reputation last season, his first with the Suns, as a strong on-ball defender. This season, he’s solidified that tag.
“P.J. is one of the best defenders and he’s on a roll right now,” teammate Goran Dragic said.
Aside from the work he puts in on the court in practice — he’s often one of the last players to leave, Tucker is working hard off the court, on his own time, studying scouting reports and watching game film — a lot of game film.
“This year way more…taking it to another level,” he said. “Last year it was like just playing hard and leaving it all on the floor. Now, it’s like playing hard and trying to be smart and be strategic about it.
“Just trying to be the anchor of our defense, I’ve got to know everything and know all the places everybody is supposed to be on the floor. Night in and night out, it’s always a tough job because you’re always going to guard the best player on the other team.”
Tucker’s next defensive assignment is the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant.
“Kobe is like maybe the hardest guy ever to guard, so it’s always exciting to get a chance to play him and get after it, playing in L.A,” he said.
The Suns (11-9) visit the Lakers Tuesday in Bryant’s second game back. He had been sidelined for nearly eight months after tearing the Achilles tendon in his left leg.
“Obviously with Kobe back that changes their team a little bit,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said Monday. “I expect after them losing last night (vs. Toronto, 106-94) that they’ll come back and probably get back to what they’ve been doing. They’ve been playing pretty well.”
The Lakers (10-10) had won six of eight before Sunday.
Bryant finished with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and eight turnovers in 28 minutes in his season debut. He made only 2-of-9 shots, missing all three of his three-point attempts.
“He hadn’t played in so long,” Tucker said. “He can break out in the next game and have 40. You never know. That doesn’t indicate anything.”
He should know. Tucker has watched the film.