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Clippers center Ivica Zubac to miss Game 5 tonight because of knee injury

Clippers center Ivica Zubac tries to score inside against Phoenix's Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac tries to score inside against Phoenix’s Jae Crowder, left, and Deandre Ayton in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

With their rotation options already limited because of injuries and facing elimination Monday, the Clippers will be without center Ivica Zubac for Game 5 of their Western Conference finals at Phoenix Suns Arena.

Zubac has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, the team announced, and has been ruled out for the potential elimination game for the Clippers, who trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

After seeing his starting role from the regular season shift during the postseason’s first two rounds after the Clippers successfully used a smaller lineup, the 7-foot Zubac has played his best basketball of the postseason against the Suns.

He has served as an effective counter against Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton. Zubac has played at least 32 minutes in each of the last three games while averaging 14 points and 13.7 rebounds in that span.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said that DeMarcus Cousins will get minutes at center in Zubac’s absence. After struggling in Game 1, picking up five fouls in 13 minutes, Cousins has been a nonfactor for much of the series. He didn’t play at all in Game 3 and played just four seconds in Game 4, his only box-score contribution being a 1-of-2 spot at the free-throw line.

Most importantly, Zubac’s presence defending pick-and-roll plays helped stifle Phoenix. In the 48 minutes when Zubac has been on the court with Suns guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the Clippers have outscored Phoenix by 14 points. Conversely, when Zubac rests but Booker and Paul continue to play, the Suns have won those 13 minutes by four points.

Paul George makes 15 of 20 shots, including 3 of 6 from three-point range, in the Clippers’ 116-102 victory over the Suns. Game 6 is Wednesday in L.A.

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Tipoff for Game 5 is 6 p.m.

The Clippers will have a harder time playing small, as they did to beat Dallas and Utah in the playoffs, because of injuries to Kawhi Leonard (right knee sprain), who remains in Los Angeles, and Marcus Morris (left knee).

Nicolas Batum, the forward who replaced Zubac as a starter in the postseason, also doesn’t appear fully healthy. Though the team has not disclosed any specific injury, he went from averaging nearly 33 minutes during his first 14 playoff games to 15.5 in the last three against Phoenix.

Clippers-Suns finals schedule
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)


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