Use your forearm to block opponent’s elbows. If you want to avoid catching an elbow to the face, then make a fist with your hand, and use you forward to block you’re their elbow. If you’re a smaller guy guarding a larger guy in the post then this come in very handy.
This also applies if you’re playing tight defense on the perimeter. Your opponent may try to use their elbows to try and create space. If they do use their elbows to try and create space, hopefully the ref will call an offensive foul. But, if they don’t then at least you’re protected.
Catching an opponent’s elbow with your forearm is a heck of a lot better than catching it with you face!
Protect yourself with your elbow if you ever play against Kobe: