Ivica Zubac vs. New Orleans
Ivica Zubac dunks against the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 21, 2018.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

Ivica Zubac Makes Most of 1st Start in 2 Seasons

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Lakers opened the night by giving the ball right to a seldom-used center who played just 11 times in the team’s first 31 games.

Ivica Zubac didn’t disappoint, setting a giant screen for Lonzo Ball before rolling to the rim for his first of four dunks on the night.

“I told him we might unlock Zu [by] playing [him] with the starters,” Kyle Kuzma said of his pregame talk with coach Luke Walton.

Stepping up in place of a flu-ridden JaVale McGee, Zubac didn’t waste a second of his first start in two years, finishing the night with 16 points and 11 rebounds — both season-highs — while shooting 8-of-10 in the Lakers’ victory.

Zubac initially wasn’t sure if he’d get the start, but Walton made the call once New Orleans decided to play a monster opening lineup of Anthony Davis and Julius Randle.

But the Lakers’ 21-year-old didn’t shy away from the challenge, instead coming out swinging with eight points in the game’s first five minutes.

Zubac benefitted from the playmaking prowess of LeBron James — who had a triple-double, 14 assists and four dimes to Zu.

Zubac mixed in a bit of everything, scoring out of pick-and-rolls, post-ups and cuts to the basket.

The one constant was the presence of LeBron, who often found the big man when he had space in the paint or a favorable matchup.

He made this assist easy for James by slamming Solomon Hill with a screen and then using his six-inch height advantage to post him up deep in the paint.

And Zubac helped James get his scoring, too.

Most notably, he ripped the ball away from Davis early in the game, allowing LeBron to bolt ahead for a fast-break bucket.

“Zu got the game ball tonight for sure,” James said. “His impact both offensively and defensively was huge for us tonight.”

Indeed, Zubac made as much of a difference on the defensive side of the ball.

Anthony Davis (30 points, 20 rebounds) shredded the Lakers all night long, but his few errors often came against Zubac.

With the game winding down, Davis missed five of his final six shots from the field. Zubac was the defender on three of those misses, including an excellent rotation to reject an AD alley-oop.

But Zubac’s primary target was former teammate Julius Randle, as the two went back-and-forth all night.

“I know what Julius is trying to do and I was ready for him,” Zubac said. “I could’ve done a better job in the first half, but I did a much better job in the second half.”

In particular, Zubac tried to keep Randle from getting into the middle of the paint, one of his favorite spots.

And though he got there with a minute left and the Pelicans clinging to life, Zubac was nonetheless able to step up to the moment by absorbing Randle’s contact and recovering for a huge swat.

“He’s been bullying me in practice since I got in the league,” Zubac laughed, “so it felt good to block it.”

Zubac also heeded McGee’s advice to watch film on all of Davis’ and Randle’s missed shots this season, studying how best to defend them.

The Lakers had lost back-to-back games without McGee in the lineup, but Zubac’s breakout night changed that equation.

And it’s safe to say that JaVale — who has been in Zubac’s corner all season — was loving it from afar.

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