Davis, Cousins to represent West in Sunday's All-Star Game
February 14, 2017 3:09 AM
by Tony Mejia
Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will represent the West in next Sunday’s All-Star Game, but the ex-Kentucky stars squared off on Sunday to try and continue building momentum and aid their team’s playoff chances with the break approaching and the entire league off until Feb. 24.
Although Denver and Portland are currently just ahead of them, those stars, two of the top big men in the league, figure to be in the thick of the race for the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed into April.
Although that last playoff spot is all that is available, New Orleans, Sacramento, Minnesota all appear to be capable of rising up, and just the fact they’ll be playing meaningful games is a welcome change from last season.
The Pelicans came off a win, opening the four-game road trip that’s taking them into the break by trouncing Minnesota. Davis scored 42 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the 122-106 win over the Timberwolves, finishing 16-for-22 from the field in getting the better of another product of the Kentucky basketball factory, Karl-Anthony Towns.
While Towns was controversially left off the Western Conference All-Star team, Davis and Cousins will be in New Orleans as part of next weekend’s festivities, although neither has had a smooth first few months.
Davis has displayed toughness in playing through a number of varying injuries, the most severe caused by an injured hip suffered during an in-game fall.
Cousins has dominated despite feuding with everyone from opposing assistant coaches to media to trash cans. Referees remain his primary nemesis, so he had already racked up 16 technical fouls and secured a league-mandated suspension entering the game against New Orleans.
Cousins’ Kings beat the Pelicans 105-99 thanks to his 28 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, but he put the danger of truly trusting his team on display by picking up his 17th technical foul in the first quarter.
That’s right, after reaching the NBA’s technical foul limit to where he drew his first automatic suspension, Cousins immediately went to work on his next one. He’s matched his entire total from last season with 25 games remaining and will be suspended an additional game for every two technicals he receives. At the rate he’s racked them up so far, he’ll miss another four contests if he doesn’t curb the temper.
“I can’t be myself,” Cousins told reporters after the win. “Me playing the way I play is what makes me the players I am. I’m trying to find a way to do what these guys are asking me to do. Obviously, what I’ve been doing is not acceptable. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to find a way.”
Costing himself games due to league-mandated suspensions doesn’t bode well for his team beating out the Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, Wolves, Lakers and Suns, all of which still have a chance to claw into the West’s top eight. Of all these teams, the most intriguing story resides in Sacramento, if only because the situation there has been so dysfunctional and has looked so hopeless.
Of all these teams, the Kings are also most likely to implode.
Sacramento pulled off a dramatic 108-107 win over Atlanta on Friday that was saved by a Matt Barnes’ block of Tim Hardaway, Jr.’s would-be game winner at the rim. They pulled off a spirited comeback win that saw them rally back from a 22-point deficit, much of it with Cousins on the bench.
An interesting thing has transpired this week, though. While their best player sat on Wednesday, Sacramento blew the doors off Boston. The Celtics have gone on to commanding wins over Portland and Utah, but couldn’t hang with the Cousins-less Kings, losing 108-92.
Although the tantrums and sulking continued as Atlanta ran out to a lead that swelled as large as 22 points, Cousins calmed down as his team fought back again without him, then made countless clutch plays down the stretch, hitting an enormous 3-pointer and fouling out Dwight Howard to help complete a huge win.
Afterwards, Cousins lauded his team’s fight and seems to have bought in more than he has. Whether it affects future behavior remains to be seen, but the Kings have come together enough to impress him.
“It was just a matter of us getting our heads (right), starting with me,” said Cousins, who committed nine turnovers in contributing to the awful start against the Hawks. “Just a lot of things going through my head, wrong place, wrong time but my teammates pulled me along.”I’m fighting my demons right now.”
With Cousins having issues, Rudy Gay (Achilles) done for the season, Omri Casspi out with a calf injury and Ty Lawson dealing with an abdominal strain and a hand injury, seeing Darren Collison and Ben McLemore raise their levels and getting key contributions from veterans Barnes, Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver has really pulled this team together.
McLemore’s 22 points against the Hawks were a season-high, and he’s really become a force of late. Recent draft picks Willy Cauley-Stein and Malachi Richardson have even gotten in the mix and been effective, so we’ll see if the Kings can string together some lasting momentum.
Over the past three weeks, Sacramento has beaten both Cleveland and Golden State. Only the Spurs and Grizzlies have done that. The Kings will get another crack at the Warriors on Wednesday in Oakland after visiting the Lakers on Tuesday, where they’ll look to match their longest winning streak of the season by claiming their fourth straight.
The Kings are worth keeping an eye on, if only for the entertainment value. Just be sure to check if Cousins is available and not suspended if you’re thinking on investing on Sacramento over the season’s final two months.