The Kings have seen what happens when center DeMarcus Cousins cannot play.
They lose a lot of games, coaches lose jobs, and they look more like a team headed for top pick in next year’s NBA draft than one capable of contending for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
That should start to change Thursday when Cousins, if he has no setbacks, returns to the lineup against the Milwaukee Bucks with a restriction on his minutes, according to multiple sources.
Cousins has missed 10 games because of viral meningitis. Without him, the Kings are 2-8 and have lost four in a row.
“(Cousins) got through most of the practice,” coach Tyrone Corbin said after Wednesday’s workout. “He did everything and he looked good. We’ll see how he feels later on (Wednesday) and at shootaround (Thursday ), but he was excited to be on the floor for the full practice.”
Cousins last played Nov. 26 at Houston. Two days later, he was sent him home before a game at San Antonio because he was ill with what the team thought was a virus. He was sent to the hospital on Dec. 2 because of headaches after he attempted to warm up before a game against Toronto. He was kept in the hospital to rest and to be monitored and was released the next day. He was later diagnosed with viral meningitis.
The Kings will bring Cousins, who leads the team in scoring (23.5) and rebounding (an NBA-best 12.6) along slowly.
“Being out so long and the game is different from practice, his wind is probably short,” Corbin said. “I’ll have to play him in short spurts for a little while until we see how he’s coming along. It’ll be a pleasure to get him back on the floor, and we look forward to whenever he gets back.”
It might be unreasonable to expect Cousins to dominate as he did before the illness, even in short spurts. He lost at least 10 pounds and has been working on regaining his strength and stamina, which is why his playing time will be limited.
“I’m sure teams will come after him because of the time out,” Corbin said. “He gets double-teamed a lot so he has bodies on him. There’s not a set amount of time, but we’ll have to monitor with our staff to see what gives him the best chance of playing effective for us.”
Cousins’ absence has the Kings hurting on offense and defense. They’ve missed his activity on defense and his rebounding ability.
Rudy Gay has been forced to carry the offense, and without Cousins drawing double teams, there weren’t as many open looks for teammates.
“He was definitely missed,” forward Jason Thompson said. “We definitely have guys on this roster who can come in and do certain things. It’s just a little different when the offense goes through a certain guy or certain guys; it changes the system you play as a team.”
The style of play might be different for Cousins, too.
After coach Michael Malone was fired Sunday, the directive from management is for the Kings to play less isolation basketball and move at a faster pace.
Corbin said the Kings have to “look at it going forward to get a good balance” of an up-tempo game while still utilizing Cousins in the post, where he’s most effective.
“We’ll have to wait for him at times (to get up the floor) to make sure we get the ball inside to control the game, but he can run also,” Corbin said.
Cousins’ presence on defense could help the Kings generate offense, too.
“If you are going to run, you can’t take the ball out of the basket to run,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to get back to our defensive ways, our defensive principles.”
And get back to getting the ball to Cousins.
The Kings have shown that combination has been good to them.