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Lakers’ Ivica Zubac leads D-Fenders to victory with huge fourth-quarter performance

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Los Angeles’ young center continues to progress during his second minor league stint.

Trevor Wong / D-Fend the Hoop

EL SEGUNDO- The Los Angeles D-Fenders beat the Salt Lake City Stars in a come from behind 118-110 victory on Thursday night. More promising for Los Angeles Lakers fans, not only was rookie center Ivica Zubac playing down the stretch, he was leading the team to victory.

"Zu was pretty impressive in the fourth," said D-Fenders head coach Coby Karl. "He really anchored our defense and stepped up."

Zubac had a slow start to the game, but dropped a quick six points coming out of the halftime break, and took his production to the next level when returning to the game with 10:51 left and the D-Fenders trailing by 6. After picking up two quick fouls, the rookie shook off the whistles and went to work.

Zubac used a combination of hook shots and thunderous dunks to drop 12 of his 22 points in the final period and guide the D-Fenders to victory in his fourth game on D-League assignment.

"I was mad so I had to pick up my energy and activity on the floor,” Zubac said. “When I did that everything else started going for me."

Zubac wouldn’t reveal what he was upset about, but the Stars didn’t like him when he’s angry. The 19-year old continues to improve by the game in the D-League, and he’s just grateful for the opportunity to show what he can do.

"I wouldn't play anything at Lakers, so it's better to stay here and get some minutes and stay in shape and work on my game,” Zubac said. "I feel like I can play 48 minutes but that probably wouldn't be good for the team.”

Zubac is probably right, but conditioning hasn’t been a problem for him, an encouraging sign for such a large player. He’s shockingly light on his feet, and didn’t run out of gas late in the on this rim run that essentially iced the game for Los Angeles:

That’s a seven-foot, 265 pound man (literally the biggest player in the game) beating every single member of the Stars down the floor, catching a contested pass, and finishing with authority. That’s the type of potential that makes it easy to see why Lakers fans are so giddy about Zubac’s future.

Potential is the operative word, though. There are reasons Zubac is getting seasoning in the D-League. He’s still learning to play without fouling (Zubac is being whistled for 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes in the D-League), and his teammates can frequently be heard making sure “Zu” knows where he is supposed to be on the floor.

These are totally normal problems for such a young seven-footer, and Zubac isn’t hanging his head when he encounters adversity.

"I started really bad so I wanted to pick it up for my teammates,” Zubac said. “I had to step up and that's what I did."

Those same teammates were impressed with the fight he showed.

“He was demanding the ball, which is good. For a young guy to come in here and want the ball is something that you want to see, but the best thing about him is he's been getting better every game,” said D-Fenders point guard Josh Magette, who set up Zubac for more than a few of his 13 assists in the contest. “He's been fun to play with, he's open to learning and that's all you can ask for.”

If it’s all the Lakers are asking for, then they may call Zubac back up sooner rather than later. He’s made progress during his second D-League assignment, and he’s staying ready for when his number is called to return to the parent team.

"I'm watching every game and talking to Larry [Nance, Jr.] after every game,” Zubac said. “I'm supporting my teammates and I look forward to getting back with the team.”

All stats per stats.nbadleague.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.