Clippers center Ivica Zubac plays with confidence and lofty goals in mind

Clippers center Ivica Zubac cringed but only briefly by the memory. His dark bushy eyebrows pulled together as the thought about being posterized by Houston’s Kenyon Martin Jr., a moment that went viral. But like most things – bad games, nagging aches and pains, rough patches, Zubac shrugged it off like some undersized opponent.

“You’re going to have those games in a season. You got to get over it, that’s it,” Zubac said.

Unfazed, the Clippers’ center returned to the court, posting double-doubles in three of his next four games.

As the team’s only true big man, Zubac feels a sense of responsibility to be the best. So, he spends hours on the court learning how to improve and additional time in the training room keeping his 7-foot body in peak condition.

His dedication has resulted in two career nights rebounding-wise. He twice has posted career-highs of 18 boards – once against Oklahoma City in October and recently against Detroit. And Zubac has shown he can carry the load, averaging nearly 31 minutes a game.

Back-up center Isaiah Hartenstein bolted for the New York Knicks after last season, leaving the Clippers with little option in the paint. So, when the team goes big, Zubac is there.

“I am just playing more and playing more confidently,” said Zubac, who played in the grueling FIBA EuroBasket tournament to help prepare for the grind of the NBA season.

“I feel like it was coming. The last few years, I feel like I was so close to averaging a double-double that I just had to get my minutes up.  I started out better defensively this year which allowed me to stay on the floor a longer time.

“I feel that every time I play more minutes in my career, I play better. So that’s what it is – getting more minutes and more confident and improving.”

Zubac is indeed staying on the court longer this season, up nearly six minutes from last season. Or as Coach Tyronn Lue will tell, you, it’s difficult to get him off the court.

“It takes a lot for him to sit down,” Lue said.

Heading into Friday’s home game against the Denver Nuggets, Zubac is averaging 9.7 points, 10.8 rebounds (up 2.3 from last season) and 1.9 blocks. He has quickly developed into one of the league’s best defensive centers and rim protectors.

“I think his ability to protect the rim, rebounding the basketball – it’s glaring when he’s off the floor,” Lue said. “We have a tough, tough time defensively and in rebounding the basketball.

“The way he’s been playing at a high level, like I said, we don’t want to wear him down early, but he’s been doing great a great job, so we are trying to get the most out of him, but also being smart about it.”

Before the season. Zubac, who signed a three-year, $33 million extension during the offseason, said he wants to be known as one of the best rim-protectors in the league, maybe even earn a spot on the All-Defensive team this season. It’s something that drives him.

“Understanding my positioning, how I can contest the shot wherever I can help and that’s it,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to get better. I think I can be one of the best rim-protectors. Last year it didn’t show. So, I have that extra motivation of showing it.”

Assistant coach Jay Larranaga, who works with Zubac, said that people forget how young he is because he has been on the NBA stage for six seasons. He was a second-round pick by the Lakers in 2016 and played for the Clippers’ hallway rivals for two-plus seasons, starting 23 games, before being traded.Related Articles

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“I’m a big believer in his talent,” Larranaga said. “I’m excited to see where he’s going.”

Norm Powell shares space in the locker room, sitting just inches from the big man and his bigger shoes. At times, Zubac’s large And Ones invade Powell’s area, but he doesn’t notice, saying Zubac is a joy to be around.

“He’s always joking around. I like messing with him, telling him he’s not a true center and that I can post him up,” Powell said. “He’s a big part of what we are doing. As the season goes on, his minutes will probably increase so he takes care of his body; he’s always in working with the training staff.”

Rumors surfaced that the Clippers are exploring a trade for another big man, but Powell said that won’t change a thing with the lineup.

“If we had another center, he would still be out there. He’s the anchor, not only for the first unit, but for the team.”