Just as DeMarcus Cousins(notes) was becoming better known as one of the NBA’s most talented rookies rather than a potential trouble-maker, the Sacramento Kings center became the center of controversy again after a weekend loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A night later, his team proved it can get by without him.
Cousins didn’t travel with Sacramento for its latest road game after a postgame incident against the Thunder, but he’ll be back on the court for Tuesday night’s rematch in Oklahoma City as the Kings seek a fourth consecutive victory away from home.
Sacramento (13-38) has the league’s third-worst record, but it’s discovering that it may have a building block in the middle for years to come in Cousins.
The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft has averaged 19.6 points and 11.3 rebounds in his last seven games, a stretch that seemed to indicate Cousins had matured since a string of three earlier incidents that began in the preseason - including one with coach Paul Westphal.
He had 14 points and 12 boards in a 99-97 loss to the Thunder (34-19) on Saturday, but no one was talking about his play on the court afterward.
Displeased that teammate Donte Greene(notes) passed the ball to Tyreke Evans(notes) rather than him in the waning seconds, Cousins reportedly took a swing at Greene in the locker room after the game. He was then left off the team plane to Phoenix.
The Kings didn’t let the situation affect them. Greene and Samuel Dalembert(notes) each had 12 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, helping Sacramento rally from a three-point deficit after 36 minutes for a 113-108 win.
“We missed Cuz tonight but we couldn’t dwell on it,” said Greene, who finished with 19 points. “We had to come out and still play well.
“Things happen. Everybody is not perfect. We try not to let things off the court distract us on the court. It is life. Everybody is not perfect and we’ve got to move on.”
The Kings announced Monday that Cousins - who apologized for his actions - will be fined but will rejoin the team in Oklahoma City, where Sacramento will look for its first four-game road winning streak since Dec. 11, 2004-Jan. 4, 2005.
That won’t be easy to accomplish against the Thunder, who have won seven of eight against Sacramento and all four meetings in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder, though, have sandwiched two losses around the win over the Kings, with turnovers proving costly in both defeats.
Oklahoma City gave the ball away a season-high 23 times - Russell Westbrook(notes) had eight - in a 105-101 overtime loss to Memphis last Tuesday, then committed 20 turnovers in a 100-94 road loss to Golden State on Sunday.
Westbrook, who had six of those, took responsibility for his team’s sloppy play.
“I blame it on me,” Westbrook said. “I’ve been not taking care of the ball and it’s been rubbing off on my teammates. I have to figure out how to take care of the ball and make smart decisions for my teammates and not put them in bad situations.”
Aside from the turnovers, the Thunder need to do a better job on the boards. The Kings outrebounded them by 13 on Saturday and the Warriors held a 14-board edge Sunday.
Oklahoma City is 22-6 when it outrebounds its opponent.
Durant, who scored 35 at Sacramento on Saturday but missed two late free throws, has averaged 35.0 points in his last 11 home games. The Thunder are 7-0 when he reaches 35.