For the last week, the Kings’ medical staff was in charge of DeMarcus Cousins’ playing time. That’s why he’d missed the previous three games with a lower back strain.
Monday night, Cousins was cleared to play and posted team highs with 31 points, nine rebounds, six assists and a blocked shot as the Kings defeated the Dallas Mavericks 112-98 at Sleep Train Arena.
Cousins has missed eight of Sacramento’s 19 games this season. The Kings are 6-5 when Cousins starts. But between a strained Achilles’ (four games), his back and a one-game suspension from the NBA, he’s been out nearly half the season.
“I wanted to come back sooner, but (director of sports medicine) Pete (Youngman) and (the medical staff), they do what they do,” Cousins said. “They decided to make the return today, and that’s how it goes.”
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Despite his impressive statistics, Cousins was predictably rusty. He shot 10 of 24 from the field, including 1 of 8 on three-point attempts, but made all 10 of his free-throw tries. The eight three-point attempts were a career high.
“Missing a week of ball, you’re out of rhythm – it’s tough,” Cousins said. “I kind of expected it when I’d seen the stat sheet.”
The key now is staying on the court.
“They’re just nagging injuries,” Cousins said. “They’re kind of just part of the game. It’s just bad timing, if anything. I’ve probably got to do a better job of maintenance on my body – I’m sure that will help.”
A welcome part of the game for the Kings was defense.
Initially, it appeared the Kings would give up plenty of points again. The Mavericks made 11 of their first 18 shots (61.1 percent) and scored 32 points.
The Kings, however, didn’t cave in defensively. They responded after halftime with one of their best defensive quarters of the season.
Sacramento allowed just 13 points on 22.7 percent shooting (5 of 22) – season lows for points, field-goal percentage and baskets in a quarter.
The Kings also forced seven turnovers and committed only one in the third to help offset their own bad shooting (5 of 20).
“We had a talk at halftime,” Cousins said. “We felt the defense just wasn’t where it needed to be, and we did a great job responding in the second half, just knowing our mistakes and trying to fix them before they kicked our butt.”
Rudy Gay put two consecutive poor-shooting games behind him to score 20 points, missing only five of his 12 field-goal attempts. Rajon Rondo added 21 points.
The bench also was productive. Coach George Karl said Darren Collison (15 points) might have had his best defensive game of the season, and Seth Curry provided a surprise spark with eight points in the second quarter to keep the Kings in the game.
“For us to be a highly efficient offense and a successful offense, we’ve got to play some defense,” Karl said. “I think the guys realize that at a pretty high level right now.”
Chanlder Parsons led the Mavs (10-8) with 14 points. Zaza Pachulia had 13 points and 10 rebounds.