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Young Clippers earn praise for playing key roles in their playoff push

Young Clippers earn praise for playing key roles in their playoff push
Clippers center Ivica Zubac grabs a rebound between the Sacramento Kings' Willie Cauley-Stein, left, and Bogdan Bogdanovic during the first quarter. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The Clippers’ three youngsters took another step in their development during a victory Friday night at Sacramento.

Coach Doc Rivers had nothing but praise after Landry Shamet shot his way to 20 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was steady as he carved out 15 points, five rebounds and two steals, and Ivica Zubac powered his way to 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.

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“Sham, Shai, Zu, all three of them were absolutely fantastic tonight,” Rivers said late Friday night.

Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet and Zubac are being asked to be key contributors for a Clippers team in a tense playoff race in the super-tough Western Conference. And despite their inexperience and lack of playing time together — Gilgeous-Alexander and Shamet are rookies, and the 21-year-old Zubac and Shamet recently arrived in trades — they have been instrumental in keeping the Clippers in the hunt.

“It’s important for everybody to play well, I think,” Shamet said Friday night. “Obviously us, this being kind of our first push for the playoffs and understanding the importance of every game, every possession, you take a little more accountability for yourself. There is a heightened sense of, ‘I need to be on point all the time.’”

Gilgeous-Alexander has started 55 of his 64 games and is averaging 9.9 points, 2.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 25.6 minutes, shooting 45.9% from the field, 33.3% from three-point range and 80.7% from the line.

Shamet has started six of his eight games since being acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers, and despite being asked to play out of position as a 6-foot-5 guard starting at small forward, he has responded by averaging 11.4 points. He is shooting 41.8% from the field, 42.6% from three-point range and 88.2% from the line in 28.4 minutes.

Zubac has started at center in all eight games with the Clippers after he was acquired from the Lakers and the 7-1 Croatian is averaging 8.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and one block in 19.4 minutes.

In their first game together, the trio helped the Clippers rally from 28 down to win at Boston, and the team has gone 5-3 with them in the lineup despite trading leading scorer Tobias Harris.

“It’s good to be in these situations early in our careers,” Shamet said. “We’re fortunate to be in them night in and night out.”

After watching Shamet, Zubac and Gilgeous-Alexander not back down during big moments against the Kings, who also are fighting for a playoff spot, Clippers veteran Lou Williams came away impressed.

“Kudos to those guys,” Williams said. “We’re probably one of the few teams that’s playing three guys that’s so young, especially two rookies, and they have come out and played big. I think Sham and Shai had big nights. Zubac was physical for us. So they were a big part of this win.”

UP NEXT

VS. NEW YORK

When: 12:30 p.m., Sunday.

On Air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.

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Update: The Knicks have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the second worst in the NBA at 13-49. They are tied for 26th in scoring (105.9) and are 25th in points allowed (114.1).

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