first_imgPLAYA VISTA — Clippers center Ivica Zubac looks like he spent the summer improving his strength, diet and overall game, motivated to prove his worth and fulfill some high hopes.“The sky is the limit for him, he could be a very dominant center,” Kawhi Leonard said recently of Zubac, noting also, “how good he’s gonna be is gonna be up to him.”In the first six games this season – before which the good-natured 22-year-old center signed a four-year, $28.5 million contract – Zubac is averaging 8.7 points, shooting 72 percent from the field and grabbing 5.8 rebounds in 16.3 minutes.More important: his defense. Zubac is posting a career-best defensive rating of 93.7 (the number of points per 100 possessions that the team allows while a player is on the court). Clippers vs. Mavericks Game 5 playoff updates from NBA beat reporters “Nah,” Rivers said, before qualifying his response: “I didn’t ask. I don’t ask. I really don’t know. I’ve never (been hands on). I’ve always believed the trainer. At some point, someone’s gonna tell me he can play.”Half of the Clippers’ new superstar tandem, George continues to rehabilitate following surgery to both shoulders this offseason.Meanwhile, Leonard has played in five of the Clippers’ first six games, three of which were victories. He’s averaging 29.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists — with a 99.4 defensive rating. GEORGE’S DEBUT TBDRivers said he didn’t have an update on when Paul George – who participated in some three-on-three work with a few of the team’s young players late in practice Saturday – might take the floor for the first time as a Clipper.Related Articles For Lakers’ LeBron James, Jacob Blake’s shooting is bigger issue than a big Game 4 victory “They’re all pushing me every day,” Zubac said, referring to his teammates. “They think I have a big defensive potential … so I’m just learning from everyone a little bit. I understand what my role is, and that’s to play defense and rebound, set screens, be physical and finish at the rim. Just understanding my role helps me to get better.”“He’s really gettin’ it,” said Rivers, who indicated after Saturday’s practice that he hasn’t determined whether Zubac’s improved play will portend increased minutes, though the head coach wouldn’t rule it out.“It’s game to game. It’s just the way things have gone so far. I do want to cut some of Trezz’s (Montrezl Harrell’s) minutes because he’s playing a lot of minutes in a row, so my guess is Zube will end up playing more.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Kristaps Porzingis ruled out as Clippers, Mavericks set for Game 5; Follow for game updates Clippers hope they can play to their capabilities, quell Mavericks’ momentum He’s doing it with performances like he had in a victory against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, when he defended LaMarcus Aldridge for 16 possessions and allowed the talented big man only four shot attempts, none of which he made.In the two games before that, Utah’s stellar defensive center, Rudy Gobert, went 1 for 1 with Zubac guarding him, and Charlotte’s center Cody Zeller was just 1 for 5. Zubac posted a career-high five blocks in that victory over the Hornets last week.Zubac and the Clippers will face Gobert and the Jazz again at 6 p.m. Sunday at Staples Center.“We need him to be big, because he is big,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of his 7-foot, 240-pound starting center, acquired via a trade with the Lakers at the deadline last season. “I tell him, ‘Be large, be heavy, be all the things you are every night. They need to feel you every night.’”Zubac has taken that advice, and much else, to heart, getting up and down the floor more swiftly this season and avoiding fouls by keeping his feet moving and his arms raised to challenge shots. What the Clippers are saying the day after Luka Doncic’s game-winner tied series, 2-2 last_img read more