After not just a rough start to the season, but the happenings of this week, the Kings needed something to work in their favor. If you remember back to Thursday, I asked Coach Paul Westphal if he thought that the Carl Landry situation might help to galvanize this team. Here was his answer to that question then:
I think we’ve been fairly well galvanized anyway. We have a very good group. We’re pulling hard and we are always disappointed if we lose, and we are trying to figure out a way to get over the hump and I think we’ve been doing it together.
Before the game Saturday night against the New Orleans Hornets, after beating the reigning world champion Lakers the night before at Staples center, I asked him the question again.
Right now, I would say yes, and I hope it continues.
Low and behold, it did continue. Mired in a stretch of games that would give Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich heartburn, the Kings are an improbable 2-0 in their last two games. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with Boston, San Antonio, Utah, Dallas and Oklahoma City coming to town, followed by Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Miami and Orlando on the road.
Galvanized, improved, or maybe just the laws of averages finally catching up- whatever it is, this Kings team looks different than the one that took the floor for the first half of the season.
Leading this charge? Rookie big man DeMarcus Cousins, who is not just burning up the court with his play, but showing remarkable signs of leadership. After posting 27 points and 10 rebounds against the Lakers on Friday night, the young center, who is often questioned about his level of fitness, posted 25 points 12 rebounds and 7 assists in the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday against the Hornets.
Impressive numbers for sure, but maybe more impressive was Cousins regulating one of the NBA’s superstars during the waning moments of the Kings’ victory Saturday night. After a missed three point attempt by Marcus Thornton and the subsequent rebound by Samuel Dalembert and with just 31.4 seconds remaining in the game, Chris Paul flat out ran over Beno Udrih. Cousins was going to have none of that. Not only did he go to help scrape Beno off the floor, but he let Chris Paul know he wasn’t going to do that again. When asked what he said to Paul, Cousins said “I told him to clean it up.” Cousins continued, “I know that I kind of overstepped the boundaries and Chris texted me that, but I’m going to continue to do it.” By “it”, DeMarcus Cousins means to protect his own, even against the stars of the NBA.
Coach Westphal was asked about the Cousins/Paul situation in his post game press conference and whether or not he liked the move by Cousins:
If he got a technical I wouldn’t have liked it, but he was protecting his teammate. At that stage of the game, at all cost, you don’t want a technical – but especially your big fellas you want to protect your team.
Westphal continued about Cousins:
DeMarcus for the last several games, I wouldn’t know where to start the count, his leap in poise and competitive maturity has been phenomenal. So yeah, I want to be on the lookout for an explosion, but he’s been extremely well-contained and his play has been reflective of that.
Call it a coincidence if you would like, but the Kings, after dealing with some local drama, have seemingly pulled together as a team. Not only have they beat two extremely high quality opponents, but they are showing signs that they are one unit, ready to back one another up on and off the court. The next ten games will test their resolve, but it’s starting to look like, win or lose, there will be no more taking this team lightly.
As for DeMarcus Cousins, he gets to try his hand against a group of NBA legends this week. First up on the docket are Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett, but right behind those greats, an all-star caliber player in Al Jefferson and two more sure-fire hall of fame players in Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. There is no rest for the weary in the NBA.