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Ivica Zubac

NBA

Why Ivica Zubac is a huge X-Factor for the Clippers in season opener vs. Lakers

The Los Angeles Clippers will kick off their much-anticipated 2019-20 NBA campaign against the Los Angeles Lakers (who else?) on Tuesday night, and while it’s an exciting matchup, it doesn’t carry the cachet that a potential playoff series would.

Not just because the postseason is obviously more thrilling than a regular-season game in October, but because the Clippers are currently without Paul George, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

As a result, this clash has lost some of its luster. While the Kawhi Leonard-LeBron James matchup is great enough on its own, we all really want to see the two duos (Leonard and George vs. James and Anthony Davis) battling.

But we won’t get that on opening night.

Instead, the Clippers will have to rely on production from role players such as Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac.

We know what the former three can do. Williams is a microwave scorer and Harrell and Beverley are ferocious defenders. But what about Zubac?

Zubac, the former Laker who was traded to the Clippers midway through last season, is more of a traditional big man, one who primarily plays on the low block and is allergic to three-pointers (he attempted just three over his first three NBA seasons).

He is also not much of a defender, which could be a problem against a Lakers frontline that includes Davis.

While Ivica Zubac will likely be tasked with guarding Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, he may have to deal with Davis for stretches if the Lakers decide to go with Davis at the 5, and even if they don’t, Howard and McGee are tough enough to defend in their own right.

The Lakers will almost definitely try to put Zubac in pick-and-rolls, utilizing the athletic ability of Howard and McGee and taking advantage of the relatively slow footspeed of Zubac.

For that reason, Zubac’s minutes will be absolutely pivotal, and he will also have to give the Clips some extra scoring punch in George’s absence.

The Clippers don’t have a ton of depth at center, so Zubac will have to make the most of his playing time, even if he only plays 20-25 minutes on Tuesday night.

Basically, Zubac just has to not screw up defensively and not constantly get burned on high screen-and-rolls. Fortunately, the Clippers are good enough to defensively to mask his mistakes, but if the Lakers keep exploiting him, it could be an issue for the Clippers.

If Zubac has a strong game, the Clippers will be in great position to snag an opening-night win.