When the Sacramento Kings faced the New Orleans Hornets last month, DeMarcus Cousins was absent after running afoul of then-coach Paul Westphal. A lot has changed since.
Coming off his first career 20-20 game, Cousins looks to help lead the Kings to a season-high third straight win Monday night in New Orleans.
Cousins finished with 21 points and a career-high 20 rebounds in a 114-106 overtime win over Golden State on Saturday, just the second time this season Sacramento has claimed consecutive victories.
The second-year center gave an impassioned speech heading into OT after the Kings (8-15) blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
"Usually when we get in that situation like that in the past we've had a tendency to do it one-on-one and do it by ourselves," Cousins said. "So I just made sure I made it clear that we weren't going to win the game playing one-on-one, we've got to play together, team defense, team offense."
Cousins' maturity and leadership have grown since Westphal ordered him to stay away from the team after he demanded a trade prior to a 96-80 win over New Orleans on Jan. 1. Cousins came off the bench the next two games before Westphal was fired Jan. 5.
Cousins seems to have a better relationship with coach Keith Smart, averaging 15.4 points and 11.9 rebounds since Westphal's dismissal after spending his first four games in near-constant foul trouble.
"I think people had this young man pegged the wrong way," Smart said. "He just needed direction and someone to lead him in a direction. I can't take all the credit for it. This guy is willing to listen to what I am trying to say to him, what our coaching staff is trying to say for him."
The Kings will try to build off Saturday's win, in which they outrebounded the Warriors 55-36 and had 20 offensive boards. Cousins had six Saturday and grabs 4.3 offensive rebounds per game, second in the league behind Cleveland's Anderson Varejao (4.7).
Despite getting outrebounded 60-41 without Cousins, Sacramento had little trouble against the Hornets on Jan. 1. Tyreke Evans had 27 points and Marcus Thornton 25.
After missing four games with a deep thigh bruise, Thornton has averaged 24.0 points the last two games.
Heading into this matchup of last-place teams, New Orleans (4-20) has dropped five straight and 14 of 15. The Hornets lost 89-87 at Detroit on Saturday.
Playing without starting point guard Jarrett Jack (knee) for a second straight game, New Orleans lost Carl Landry with a knee injury and Jason Smith with what coach Monty Williams thought was a concussion.
The injuries seemed to take their toll. After the Hornets tied the score at 65, the Pistons went on a 10-0 run.
"This is the dog days of the NBA right now," Williams said. "A lot of players are kind of going through the motions and are tied and we certainly looked that way tonight. I thought we'd be a bit fresher because I gave them the day off yesterday but maybe that hurt us."
The statuses of Jack, Landry and Smith are unknown, but it's possible Chris Kaman could return. Kaman hasn't played since Jan. 23 while the team attempted to trade him, but general manager Dell Demps took the big man off the market Friday.
New Orleans has won five straight and 11 of 12 at home against Sacramento.