NEW ORLEANS -- The Kings on Monday night had just had one of those quarters that have doomed them all season.
After a good start, Sacramento looked out of sorts defensively in the second quarter. Its lead and momentum were gone.
Thats when DeMarcus Cousins took over.
Cousins bullied his way through New Orleans front line, and rookie Ray McCallum came through in the fourth quarter to help the Kings dispatch the Pelicans 102-97at Smoothie King Center.
Cousins scored 16 of his game-high 35 points in the third quarter, making all seven of his field-goal attempts to help the Kings take a lead they wouldnt surrender.
Smoothie King Center was the site of the All-Star Game, and Cousins was not selected to play. But after Cousins had his way against the Pelicans, also grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds, Kings coach Michael Malone called Cousins the best big man in the NBA and discussed his evolution as a leader.
What Ive seen a lot more recently is his will to win, his refuse-to-lose attitude, Malone said. Hes getting on guys the right way, like a leader should, and for you to get on somebody, you have to demand it from yourself before you demand it from anybody else. I just love how hes been playing recently. Cuz is obviously going to get better, and I cant wait to be here when he is finally named an All-Star.
When Cousins signed his four-year, $62 million extension before the season, team ownership talked of how the Kings were his team to lead.
That was a lot to put on a fourth-year player.
Im the first one to admit Im still learning in this league myself, Cousins said. Ive still got a lot of learning to do and a lot of growing as being a leader of this team so, I mean, with each game Im trying to get better myself.
Cousins has been known more for piling up technical fouls and volatility. Malone, however, said Cousins has reined in his intensity since being ejected against Houston on Feb. 25.
I love the fact you can see him trying, Malone said. Hes harnessing that emotion, that competitive spirit that he has. No one is ever going to ask him to change who he is, but he has to channel it in the right way.
Cousins also said being a leader is harder than most realize, especially on a young team.
Absolutely, Cousins said. I mean, when youve got a group of guys that are fresh in this league and are still learning the game themselves and then your leaders a guy whos also still learning himself ...its a tough task, but Ive got strong shoulders, so I believe I can take it.
Cousins had help from McCallum, who played 44 minutes and posted season highs with 22 points and 10 assists. Rudy Gay had 22 points, five rebounds and five assists.
The Pelicans (32-42) trailed 84-83 with 7:19 to play before an 11-4 run on a three-pointer by Gay and four consecutive pull-up jump shots by McCallum.
Its something in my game Ive been working on all year, McCallum said. Being a point guard in this league, thats a shot youve got to be able to make.
The Kings (26-48) had only 10 players available for the game center Aaron Gray was ill and did not suit up and finished with nine.
Kings forward Reggie Evans was ejected with 1:05 left in the third quarter after being called for a flagrant foul 2. Evans was trying to score over New Orleans All-Star Anthony Davis when he caught Davis with an elbow while leaning in to shoot.
Evans said the officials did a great job.