Ivica Zubac, now experiencing winning and joy with Clippers, is ready for playoffs
LOS ANGELES – If you ask L.A. Clippers center Ivica Zubac about his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, he’ll truly have nothing but good things to say about his teammates, the coaching staff, and the front office. Considering the struggles to put together wins as well as his involvement in trade talks over the years, Zubac’s professionalism at only 22 years of age is not only admirable, but genuine.
During his two-and-a-half years with the Lakers, the team accumulated an 88-130 record, never sniffing a playoff spot, but building what appeared to be a promising future with their young core. The camaraderie of the team is something Zubac says was never an issue. The only difference for the third year center is the fact that he’s finally winning.
“I had fun on the Lakers,” Zubac admitted. “I can’t say anything [bad]. The biggest difference is just winning. I’m winning way more now and that makes it so much fun. I would lie if I said I didn’t have fun on the Lakers.
“Here, everyone’s playing hard. We’re winning, and that’s what matters the most in this league. It’s easy to cheer when you’re winning and you’re making the right plays. Even when you’re not scoring a lot or whatever, you’ve just got to play your role. Winning it makes it so much more fun.”
Since he was sent across the hall, the Clippers have had the best record in the NBA at 16-5. Those include wins over the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, and Brooklyn Nets, among others. The Lakers, however, have a flipped record of 7-15 since Zubac made his debut for the Clippers. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with injuries, but the team has fallen apart in recent weeks.
Zubac has been long-removed from his Lakers days and is solely focused on the Clippers right now. In fact, he’s known every one of the Clippers’ opponents in order for weeks, and also knows the schedules of the teams they’re competing with for playoff seeding in the 5-8 range.
“Yeah, for sure, I watch every game,” said Zubac. “I know the schedule for almost every playoff team for the next seven days. I know who they are playing, I’m watching all the games. Anyone can be our matchup in the first round, so I’m always watching it, trying to see what other teams are doing and always cheering for them to lose so we can get a higher seed. Just gotta prepare myself for the playoffs.”
With each victory, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the final game of the season against the Utah Jazz will have monumental implications on playoff seeding. With only 10 days remaining in the regular season, the Clippers (6-seed at 46-31) and Jazz (5-seed at 46-30) will try to position themselves for a favorable playoff matchup. Zubac is fully aware of how crucial that game will be.
“That’s gonna be big time,” Zubac said with raised eyebrows and a smile, fully knowing what’s at stake. “Make or break. We’ve got almost the same record and that’s gonna be a big game for both teams, especially for the seeding. Before that game, we’re gonna know who we are going to play if we win and who we are going to play if we lose, so it’s gonna be a big game. That’s what we like. We like challenges and I’m sure we’re gonna come out ready to fight.”
Before looking ahead to that, Zubac and the Clippers had something else to celebrate. For the first time in his young career, Zubac’s team clinched a spot in the NBA playoffs, which prompted a big celebration. The team’s road win against the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this week officially sealed the seventh playoff appearance in eight seasons. Zubac said the feat released a bit of pressure before the team was set to get back to business and aim for a high playoff seed in the final six games of the year.
“We knew a few weeks before we were going to make the playoffs, but finally clinching it was really good. It released a lot of pressure, but it still doesn’t change anything for us. We still got to win most of the games we’ve got coming up for the better seed.
It’s just… It’s big for us to win all those games to know who we’re going to play so we can get an easier matchup. No one wants to play Golden State.”