Growing up in Alabama, DeMarcus Cousins loved playing football. That was before his height made it obvious he’d be best suited for basketball.
But the Kings center sometimes looks as if he’s playing in the trenches on a football field. He is held, grabbed and hit to try to keep him from his favorite spots on the court.
Cousins has dealt with manhandling as long as he’s played basketball, but this season has been especially grueling.
“I’m trying to stay calm through it,” he said. “I’m getting triple-teamed. I’m getting beat up, just not getting a lot of good looks. It’s hard, but I guess I’ve got to stay positive through it, and eventually, I feel things will come my way.”
This season, Cousins started strong and was mentioned as a dark horse MVP candidate before viral meningitis knocked him out of the lineup for 10 games. The illness sapped Cousins of some of his strength, and the hits kept coming.
Teams like Tuesday’s opponent, the Golden State Warriors, throw as many big men at Cousins to try to wear him down.
The Warriors have Andrew Bogut, one of the NBA’s more physical and better defensive centers. They also use Marreese Speights and can throw a third center, Festus Ezeli, at Cousins, which they did Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena.
“You have to have size on DeMarcus,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s too big to cover with a four man (power forward), so you need size, you need intelligence, you have to play him the right way. You can’t let him dribble hard to his right. If he gets going to his right hand, he’s a monster to stop.”
Kings coach Tyrone Corbin said the team does what it can to help Cousins deal with the abuse.
The Kings want to make Cousins tougher to defend and wrestle with in the post.
“We move him around, we move him into the post, but they’re going to come after him wherever he’s at,” Corbin said. “They’re going to make it difficult. We don’t want him shooting more jump shots than post plays, so we have to give them some different looks.”
Corbin said Cousins’ skills make it possible to do different things with him on offense, but it will take a team effort to make it easier on the center.
“He’s a versatile guy that can do different things on the floor, but they’re going to come after him,” Corbin said. “We try to do a good job spacing the floor.”
The physical style has affected Cousins’ game. Though he entered Tuesday averaging 23.6 points and 12.6 rebounds, he’s struggled with turnovers and made only 11 of 41 shots in his previous two games.
“We’re trying to find different looks,” Cousins said. “As you can see, I’ve been shooting terribly lately, but we’re trying to find another way to get the ball in the basket.”
Cousins also entered Tuesday tied for the NBA lead with 4.3 turnovers per game. He said some turnovers result from the excessive contact he absorbs. Defenders are constantly slapping at his arms and body to get the ball free.
“A lot of turnovers come from (hits), but some turnovers are on me, of course,” Cousins said. “But I’m not going to take credit for all of them.”
Cousins said this season has been the hardest on him in terms of physical play. Cousins dishes out punishment in the paint, but sometimes, he’s doing it in a crowd.
And if he doesn’t find an open teammate or spacing is poor, multiple defenders collapse on him and take their turn trying to knock Cousins out of his groove.
Cousins is an avid weightlifter during the offseason, but he cuts back on weight training during the season.
“I’m sore after most games,” Cousins said. “I’ve gotten beat up a lot this season. Coaches, they’ve been monitoring how they use me in practice. They let me go take care of my body; the trainers do a great job. I’ve just got to put extra care into my body.”
He has no choice because opponents aren’t going to take it easy on him anytime soon.