Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat Next Men Up

By Michael Johnson

Over the past couple of seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers have been touted as having the best bench players in the league, and so they did. The team won three sixth Man of the Year awards the past three years with Lou Williams and former Clipper Montrezl Harrell. Plus, Patrick Patterson, JaMycal Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Gilgeous-Alexander, Maurice Harkless, and others have done an outstanding job coming off the bench over the past few years. Harrell, Green, Alexander and Harkless and some of the other players were all traded away, even coach Doc Rivers was fired last year after seven years with the team. So, talk of the best bench in the league belonging to the Clippers, was, well not so much this season. Well after watching last Monday's contest on Presidents Day at the Staples Center, between the L.A. Clippers and the defending Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat, which the Clippers won, 125 to 118 without the services of four of their five starters, leads this writer to think that the Clippers have managed to assemble the best bench in the league, again.

Missing from tonight's competition for the Clippers were Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Pat Beverly and Nicolas Batum. Three all-star players, and the fourth one a defensive specialist. The Clippers' starting five consisted of Marcus Morris Sr., Terance Mann, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Lou Williams, all bench players except for Serge Ibaka. All of the starting reserves, except Reggie Jackson scored in double figures; in-fact six Clippers scored in double figures, and Lou Williams had a double-double, 18 points and 10 assists.

The game was a close contest throughout, However, separation came in the last minutes of the third quarter and the fourth quarter. The difference makers were, you guested it, the reserves, Mann, Williams, Morris, Amir Coffey, Ivica Zubac and Luke Kennard, they combined for 112 of the Clippers 125 points, with Morris scoring 32 points. Morris was lights out from long range, hitting 6 of 8 three-point shots, he was on fire and the Heat had no answer for him. But Morris was not the only reserve to put the team on his back. Zubac did too. Big Zu entered the game with approximately 2:30 left in the third quarter and went to work. He outran, out-hustled, out worked, and worked over everyone Miami put in the low post to guard him. He scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in under 20 minutes he played.

The 7-foot Zubac scored six straight points to end the third quarter and came out in the fourth quarter seemingly on a mission. Time after time he set-up on the low block by either beating his man down court to the spot or overpowering, out working him to establish his position under the basket. Mind you, he was playing against Bam Adebayo, an NBA All Star and defensive specialist. Big Zu effectively spread out his big 7-foot frame, like a big immoveable Oak Tree, sealing off his defender, and once he received the entry pass, displayed excellent foot work, enabling him to get to the rim for several dunks. Time after time he hammered home rim shaking dunks, and he was equally locked-in on defense with a couple of blocks and altered shots. He played like a true NBA Big Man.

This writer has had the opportunity to watch Big Zu since his rookie days and his maturation is coming to fruition – he played like a full-grown man. I wouldn't be surprised to see Zu's minutes increase, and who knows, maybe we'll see him in the starting line-up soon, especially if continues to play with the energy, efficiency, hustle I saw last Monday night.

At press time the Clippers are currently 21-8 in the Western Conference which is good enough for second place. They play the first place Utah Jazz (23-5) on Friday at 7 p.m., the best team in the east, the Nets on Sunday at 5 p.m. and the Washington Wizards on Tuesday at 7 p.m. All three games will be played at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.


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