Ivica Zubac attempts a layup against the Denver Nuggets on March 13, 2017.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Zubac Shines Despite Loss to Denver

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Fresh off the most impressive game of his young career, Ivica Zubac refused to waste a smile on a strong individual performance that came in the midst of a blowout loss.

Starting for the second straight game, the rookie center piled up a career-best 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting while also hauling in 11 rebounds. But his thoughts were consumed by the margin of defeat in the Lakers’ 129-101 loss to Denver.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Zubac said. “Nobody cares. Twenty-five points but we lose by 30. That doesn’t mean anything. I’d rather score five points and help the team win.”

Despite the final outcome, Zubac got what he wanted nearly every time he touched the ball. He did most of his damage in the paint but also stepped out for a couple of mid-range jumpers.

By the final whistle, he had only missed three shots while becoming the youngest player in franchise history to record a 25-point double-double.

Still, he didn’t mince words when discussing how his team trailed by as many as 32 points against a Nuggets squad vying for the Western Conference’s eighth seed.

“We didn’t compete,” Zubac said. “We weren’t ready. It’s a shame for our team. We’re young. All the young guys that are playing should be happy to be on the court. We should compete every second we’re out there. We obviously didn’t do that this night and should be ashamed.”

Max Effort

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Head coach Luke Walton felt the same way about how his Lakers (20-47) fared.

Los Angeles trailed by 12 at the end of the first quarter and it only got worse in the second, as Denver (32-35) used a 28-8 run to push its lead to 28.

It was a rough outing carried nationally on TNT. But Walton claimed that the audience — even if it includes President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka — shouldn’t have an influence on how his team plays.

“Whether this game’s on national TV or Magic or Rob is watching (shouldn’t matter),” Walton said. “As far as individuals — from the coaching staff on down — to show up to a game and not give more of a professional effort is disheartening to me.”

The high-flying Nuggets took advantage of that lack of effort, handing out 36 assists while shooting 53.6 percent from the field. Denver also had big edges in made free throws (22-11) and 3-pointers (17-6).

Moving forward, Walton hopes that his team can grasp lessons through the growing pains.

“That’s just the way the learning process goes,” Walton said. “It’s repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s not fun, but it’s the most effective way to learn what we need to learn.”

Changing of the Point Guard
Walton has decided to experiment with his lineups over this last month of the season, which led to D’Angelo Russell coming off the bench for the first time this year.

Jordan Clarkson took his place, finishing with a healthy 19 points. But Russell couldn’t find a similar groove, shooting just 4-of-14 toward 10 points.

“It’s hard to go that many games and then just not start,” Russell said. “It’s the same thing, but just the timing threw my routine off a little bit.”

Walton said that the starting lineup will remain fluid for the rest of the season, so Russell can be reinserted at any time. However, he didn’t feel that he got a grasp of Clarkson’s playmaking capabilities among the starters, considering how quickly the game got out of hand.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to see what we were looking for with JC in the starting lineup because of the lack of competing that happened tonight,” Walton said. “(It) never allowed us to fully be engaged in the game outside of the first six to eight minutes.”

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Notes
The Nuggets had seven players score in double figures, led by matching 22-point efforts by Will Barton and Jamal Murray. … Brandon Ingram had 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting. … L.A. had a 46-42 advantage on the boards against the league’s best rebounding team. … Denver won the season series for the fifth straight year. … A crowd of 17,344 was on hand at Pepsi Center.

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