Ivica Zubac’s job won’t get any easier tonight after Nikola Jokic explosion

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Ivica Zubac #40 of the Los Angeles Clippers (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Ivica Zubac #40 of the Los Angeles Clippers (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Clippers were able to stay hot for a few days after the Paul George injury, but this team is drifting further away from postseason contention with each passing day. Ivica Zubac tried his best, but they couldn’t go blow for blow with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

Zubac had one of his best offensive games of the year with 32 points and 10 rebounds in the overtime loss, but Jokic was able to pull out the win with a show-stopping performance. Jokic’s 49 points were the most scored in a triple-double by any center not named Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

At least Zubac gets some welcome respite as the Clippers continue on this road trip, right? Wrong. Zubac’s next matchup is Joel Embiid and the mighty Philadelphia 76ers. Not only are they hot at the moment, but Embiid is playing some of his best basketball ever.

Embiid is fresh off putting 50 points on the Magic in just 27 moments of work. A struggling Zubac needs a matchup against a smaller, inexperienced big to get back on track, not one of the best players in the sport. The Clippers may need another virtuoso shooting performance to win this one.


Will Ivica Zubac and the Clippers beat Joel Embiid?

Zubac’s defense has totally fallen off of a cliff this season. Cleaning the Glass (subscription required) shows that Zubac is in the fourth percentile across the NBA as a defender. The Clippers are giving up 9.2 more points per 100 possessions when Zubac is on the floor.

Zubac has been a solid defender in the past, but teams have been able to work around him without George or Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. Getting back on track is not going to happen against a basketball unicorn in Embiid who may be the strongest center and most efficient post presence in the game today.

Zubac is going to be integral to the Clippers’ rotation if they want to make a serious charge at the postseason. We know that he can get his shots up and rebound with some of the best, but his defense has been getting sliced up by even average bigs. Unless Isaiah Hartenstein becomes Bill Russell, LA is going to be hit hard in the paint.

Zubac already give up 49 to Jokic, and another 40-burger at the hands of Embiid can’t be ruled out as a potential outcome for tonight’s game. If Zubac turns things around and shut down Embiid, the Clippers may just steal a win against an elite team.