February 24, 2024

Clippers center Ivica Zubac, quietly one of the most important contributors during their two-month run toward the top of the Western Conference standings, won’t play for at least the next month as the team waits to reevaluate a strain of his right calf.

The injury led Zubac to be scratched from the starting lineup Sunday shortly before tipoff in Minnesota, and the team is now waiting at least four weeks before trying to return him to action.

During a season in which Zubac’s chemistry with point guard James Harden in the pick-and-roll sets has become a linchpin of the Clippers’ offense, the 26-year-old center is averaging career highs in points (12.4) and blocked shots (1.4), as well as 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists, which are above his career averages.

“It’s going to be a hard loss,” coach Tyronn Lue said.

Center Mason Plumlee, who played only spot minutes since returning from a knee injury in early January, started Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma City, though Lue said he has “a ways to go” before he returns to his pre-injury conditioning. Daniel Theis resumes his role as a key reserve.

Opponents have made only 50.6% of their shots within six feet of the rim on shots defended by Zubac, the eighth-best defense among 69 centers who have played at least 20 games this season. The Clippers have been 5.9 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 2.7 points better defensively, when Zubac plays compared to when he is off the court.

Though the Clippers are familiar with compensating for injuries, Zubac has been a constant in the lineup, playing in 360 games and sitting out only 16 since arriving to the team via a February 2019 trade with the Lakers.

“It is different because you’re always used to big Zu being on the floor,” Lue said. “He has always been reliable and has always been an ironman, always available, and so to miss this much time, an extended period of time, it’s going to be hard on us, but moreso it’s hard on him. He wants to be out there and so I just feel bad for Zu.”

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