Nikola Pekovic offers insight on match-up with DeMarcus Cousins

Updated at 10:51 am PT

Nikola Pekovic rises over the Kings. (Photo: Steven Chea)

Whenever the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves get together, the DeMarcus Cousins/Nikola Pekovic match-up becomes must-see-TV.¬† Pekovic doesn’t go easy on the Kings’ 22-year-old center.

That was the case last night when Pekovic and the Wolves came away with a 97-89 victory over the Kings to end a five-game losing streak. ¬†Statistically, Pekovic didn’t set the world on fire (16 points, eight rebounds and four assists were his primary highlights).¬† But in 36 minutes, the 26-year-old helped limit Cousins to just five rebounds and 20 points on 22 shots.

“Many people don’t like when you play physical,” Pekovic said of what he does to throw Cousins off his game.¬† “(Some) respond, (some) don’t.”

The Timberwolves’ center might be Cousins’ least favorite opponent to play in the entire league.¬† Since bursting onto the NBA radar last year, Pekovic has been a thorn in Cousins’ side each time they’ve met.¬† In the four games against the third-year big man, Cousins has posted double-figures in rebounding just once.

Cousins seems to bring the best out of Pekovic.¬† But despite having a great deal of respect for him, the Montenegrin-born center suggests that he doesn’t play the Kings big man any differently than other competition.

“The goal is not to go inside and frustrate players,” Pekovic said.¬† “The goal is to go inside and win the game – whatever it takes.”

That strategy worked.  Last night, the Kings big man  opted to attack from the perimeter instead of inside.  Of the 22 shots he attempted, 17 of them were jumpers.

DeMarcus Cousins' shot chart versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. (NBA.com)

DeMarcus Cousins’ shot chart versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. (NBA.com)

Cousins’ absence in the paint allowed Kevin Love to dominate the glass.¬† In his season-high 24-rebound effort, Love grabbed a career-high 21 defensive rebounds.

In his postgame press conference last night, Kings coach Keith Smart suggested that Cousins’ perimeter-oriented game was by design.

“You’ve got to take advantage of what the defense does,” Smart said. “Because sometimes you want to go down there and bang, (but) it’s probably not going to be a high-rate number down there based on their size.

“They’re gonna pack the paint, won’t be anything there,” Smart added. “So, utilize the skill he has.”

Cousins has garnered a reputation around the league as an emotional player.  And with that brings both positives and negatives to the Kings.  But lately, his emotions have led to mostly adverse results, including a two-game suspension and an ejection from a tightly-contested game against the Utah Jazz.

Is Cousins’ hot-headed rep something Pekovic keeps in mind when game-planning for the Kings? ¬†Wisely, the Timberwolves center kept his answer vague.

“I really don’t talk about that so much,” Pekovic said.¬† “Who’s emotional, who’s not.¬† Just try to play strong, try to play every game.”

It’ll be quite some time until these two meet again this season.¬† The Kings and Timberwolves don’t play each other again until March.¬† But just like their past four match-ups, it’ll likely be must-see-TV.

How close was Andrei Kirilenko to joining the Sacramento Kings?

Small forward continues to remain a question for the Sacramento Kings.  Though John Salmons has played well since taking over as starter, the Kings are still talent-deprived at a position that six years ago used to be one of their strengths.

One of the Kings’ wing what-ifs came into Sleep Train Arena as a member of the opposition last night.¬†¬†Andrei Kirilenko, now starting small forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves, was rumored as a target of the Kings following last year’s lockout.

Just how close (or not close) was AK-47 to donning the black and purple?  Fans will likely never know as he politely declined to offer insight on how real the interest was between him and the Kings.

“I (made) a decision before the year that I’m not talking about other teams,” Kirilenko said.¬† “I don’t think it’s (appropriate) when you’re talking about different possibilities and what could have happened at the time, so sorry.”

The Russian veteran seemed to suggest the NBA just wasn’t in his plans after the lockout ended.¬† He cited last year’s 66-game schedule and the chance to ready himself for the London Olympics as reasons why he stayed overseas with CSKA Moscow.

“I decided to stay in Russia, finish the season with a good schedule (and) preparing with the Russian national team guys,” Kirilenko said.¬† “And it helped us – we got a bronze medal, we’ve been so happy.

“I was always planning to get back to the NBA,” he added.

Much like their coaching carousel since¬†Rick Adelman¬†left in 2007, the Kings have tried numerous options since¬†Metta World Peace‘s departure in 2008.¬† Salmons,¬†Donte Greene,¬†Omri Casspi,¬†Travis Outlaw,¬†Francisco Garcia¬†and¬†Tyreke Evans¬†have all had their opportunities to fill the void.

In preseason, James Johnson looked like a promising, low-risk-high-reward investment.  But thus far, the 25-year-old has been too much of an offensive liability for Keith Smart to depend on, despite his defensive prowess.

Statistical support provided by NBA.com.

Editor’s Note: Fixed to change the number jump shots Cousins attempted. ¬†He shot 17 jumpers last night, not 15.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.