EditorsNote: corrects first reference of Denver coach Mike Malone
Cousins leads Kings past Nuggets
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Sacramento Kings during the 2015-16 season.
And on Friday night, in the Kings’ first game after the NBA All-Star break, they added some defense — and an awful lot of DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins delivered another dominant double-double with 37 points and 20 rebounds as the Kings defeated the Nuggets 116-110 to build some much-needed momentum as they try to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture.
“They came out and played with a sense of urgency,” said Denver coach Mike Malone, who was returning to Sacramento for the first time since being fired in December 2014. “They’re trying to make the playoffs like we are, like Utah and like Portland is. It showed. And we did not respond until the second half, and that’s too late.”
The Kings (23-31) led by 13 points early in the fourth quarter before the Nuggets (22-33) got as close as 105-100 with 2:30 left. Sacramento held on with some key defensive stops and big plays from guards Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo.
Rondo had an exceptional all-around game, missing out on a triple-double by one assist. He finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and scored six points inside the final two minutes.
“I thought Rondo had great control of the game,” Kings coach George Karl said. “I thought it was one of our crisper games, especially defensively, except for our turnovers (22).”
Sacramento averaged 107.1 points in its first 54 games but has not been able to overcome a defense that ranked last in the league in points allowed with 109.1. While Denver still reached 110 points, the Kings showed stretches of improvement.
The encouraging defensive effort for the Kings was noticeable early. The Nuggets’ 24 points in the first quarter was the least allowed by the Kings in an opening quarter since holding visiting Charlotte to 16 points on Jan. 25.
It ended a span of nine games in which opponents scored at least 30 points in their first 12 minutes against the Kings.
“When we can play defense like that, it makes it easier for us on offense,” said Collison, who scored 17 points off the bench and added two steals. “We play defense like the way we did tonight, there’s going to be a lot things going well for us.”
Denver was led by sharp-shooting forward Danilo Gallinari with 27 points. Joffrey Lauvergne came off the bench to score 22 points in a little more than 24 minutes.
Sacramento shot the ball exceptionally well in the first half. Led by Cousins’ 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting, the Kings shot 59.5 percent from the floor and were especially accurate from behind the arc.
Guard Rudy Gay, who finished 24 points, hit on all four of his 3-point attempts in the opening half. Rondo also made four as the team shot a sparkling 10 of 13 from distance. They didn’t hit a 3-pointer in the second half, finishing 10 of 21.
Denver’s hope of blanketing Cousins with big men was dashed rather early when 6-foot-10 Nikola Jokic and 7-foot Jusuf Nurkic each had two fouls eight-plus minutes into the game. Both had four fouls before the four-minute mark of the third quarter.
“They haven’t posted him up a lot (this season),” Malone said of Cousins. “Tonight, they went to him in the post all night long and we had no answer for him.”
Sacramento’s win keeps the Kings four games behind Houston for the No. 8 spot in the West. Denver slipped to 5 1/2 back with the loss. The teams will meet again in Denver on Feb. 23.
NOTES: Kings All-Star C DeMarcus Cousins has double-doubles with at least 30 points in each of his last three games against Denver. ... Sacramento PG Rajon Rondo, who is averaging a league-best 11.9 assists, entered Friday’s game having compiled at least 15 in four straight games. ... The Kings were without the services of Fs Omri Casspi and Marco Belinelli, both of which had wisdom tooth abstractions. ... Nuggets G Will Barton entered the game ranked ninth in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 6.3 points. He has scored 15 points in the fourth quarter four times this season. ... Sacramento unveiled a new Flashback Friday court trimmed in the team’s original powder blue colors with a retro logo at center court.