DeMarcus Cousins’ focus in January is beyond anything he’s shown during his six NBA seasons.
A career-high 48 points? That’s nice, but that’s not what Cousins wanted to talk about.
“Honestly I’m more happy about the win,” Cousins said. “I’m glad to get a new career high but I’m more happy about the way this team is playing.”
The way the Kings are playing is directly related to the dominance of Cousins, who had 48 points and 13 rebounds as the Kings won their season-high fifth consecutive game, 108-97, over the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena.
Cousins tied the arena and Sacramento-era record for most points in a regulation game. Kevin Martin had 48 points March 7, 2008 against Minnesota.
Cousins’ previous career-high was 41 points, April 3, 2012 against Phoenix. Cousins fell three points short of tying Chris Webber’s Sacramento record for points in a game.
“His skills are off the chart,” said Kings coach George Karl of Cousins. “… He does all the fundamental (skills) of the game of basketball at a high, high level.”
It wasn’t for a lack of encouragement that Cousins didn’t score 50. He missed seven of his 20 free throws. And by the end of the game, Kings general manager Vlade Divac was as loud as any fan urging Cousins to score 50 points.
“Vlade was pressuring me in the tunnel to get the 50 ball,” said Cousins, who acknowledged his free throw misses kept him from 50 points.
Cousins admitted his nerves got to him as home fans chanted “MVP!” when he was at the free throw line.
“That was part of me choking too,” Cousins said. “There was a lot of pressure on that 50 ball. But the crowd was crazy. They kept us in the game.”
The Kings are 8-3 in January and Cousins has been as formidable as any player in the NBA over that span. He’s scored at least 30 points in eight of the last 11 games.
Saturday, Cousins made a career-high 17 field goals on 29 attempts to carry the Kings, who were without Rudy Gay (left heel contusion) for the second game in a row.
Indiana was led by Paul George’s 34 points, but the Pacers were without their best post defender, Ian Mahinmi (ankle) and Cousins exploited the Pacers’ lack of size.
“Guys that were in there, our three bigs, battled, did the best they could, but he’s a load,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said of Cousins. “And when he’s going to get touches every single time down the there for the time he’s in there, he’s going to put up those kind of numbers.”
Cousins’ play comes at a time he can see the playoffs as a realistic possibility for the first time in his career. The Kings are 20-23, 19-16 in games he has played. The Kings’ play in January has moved them into the Western Conference’s top eight and on pace to make the playoffs, should they maintain their level of play.
When asked if it felt good to be playing this well, Cousins said he’s not satisfied.
When it was suggested his play was good enough to earn a second consecutive All-Star game selection Cousins, said that was not his motivation.
“Playoffs,” Cousins said. “Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs.”
Rajon Rondo had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, his sixth triple double of the season. Rondo holds the single-season record for most triple doubles in Sacramento history, passing the five Webber had in the 1999-00 season.
Rondo’s streak of games with at least 10 assists is at 11, the second longest in Kings franchise history and already the longest in Sacramento history.
“I don’t know if he’s going to get All-Star votes but he should,” Vogel said of Rondo. “He’s one of the most gifted players, point guards in the game.”