The Los Angeles Clippers are a game over .500 and, man, it feels good. Their second victory over the Houston Rockets in three games felt huge for their forward momentum, as they look to close the gap on the teams standing between them and their ultimate ambition. With a third meeting between the two teams imminent, it’s another chance to continue to ascend towards the bottom end of the guaranteed playoff spots.
With Ty Lue at the helm and a roster showing they can win by any means necessary, nobody should be writing the Clippers off. They’ve already shown themselves to be the kings of the comeback, but they also have the versatility and personnel — even without a few key players — to challenge the best in the NBA on any given night. It’s that versatility which has stood out during their recent run of wins. In each of those victories different players have stepped up, though there is one that has stood taller — literally.
Ivica Zubac has been at his bullying best at various times throughout this season, but his performances against Houston either side of the All-Star Break have shown the full potential of what the Croatian center is capable of on both ends of the floor. In the first matchup he did his best work on the offensive end, with a double-double and five of his rebounds coming underneath the opponent’s basket. On Sunday night, he was a bully underneath his own basket too with 11 defensive rebounds and six blocks — including a stop at the summit that all but sealed another W.
Credit should, as always, go to Ty Lue for knowing when to use his big man and taking advantage of Christian Wood’s lack of size and absence of the attributes of a true center. However, Zubac has shown he can even do it against the best, and his confidence continues to grow as he can now seamlessly slip into becoming one of the Clippers’ leading options at times. The numbers back that up too, as the 24-year-old has been putting up career numbers as part of a more evenly distributed team effort.
Stephen Silas and his squad will have to come up with answers to how they can stop the Croat, while also keeping an eye out for the numerous other options the Clippers have at their disposal. Coach Lue recently described the addition of Robert Covington as like having two Nicolas Batums, which could mean we see flashes of “the fastest hands in the league” as a small ball center, similar to how he utilised the Frenchman during last season’s playoff run. Let’s not forget about Isaiah Hartenstein either; his 10 points off the bench last night followed an energetic performance against the Lakers and served as another reminder of why the franchise was right to put their full faith in him.
It’s a good time to be a Clipper and on any given night any combination of guys can prosper, as they continue to make it harder and harder for their opponent to find answers. If it ain’t Zubac it could be Hartenstein, and if it ain’t Isaiah it could be Batum or Covington. It’s that same next man up mentality that has continued to serve this team so well, and it may just carry them to the promised land of a playoff spot as they work back towards being the best version of themselves.
When: Tuesday, March 1 at 5 p.m. PT
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
How to watch/listen: ATTSN-SWBSSC (TV); KBME/KQBU-FMKLAC/KTMZ (RADIO)
Opposing perspective: The Dream Shake
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Ivica Zubac
Rockets: Jalen Green, Denis Schröder, Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate, Christian Wood
Clippers: Norman Powell, Jay Scrubb, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Rockets: Kevin Porter Jr., Garrison Mathews — QUESTIONABLE; Usman Garuba, Daishen Nix, Trevelin Queen — OUT