SACRAMENTO -- The race for eighth is heating up. In front of another sold out Golden 1 Center crowd, the Sacramento Kings shook off first half drama to come away with a huge 105-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Sacramento got off to another slow start, falling behind by as many as nine in the first quarter. When DeMarcus Cousins picked up his 17th technical of the season with just over a minute remaining in the period, the Kings looked out of sorts.
“We know that he’s trying his best to keep his cool and he’s done a good job,” Darren Collison said. “He’s done a good job of keeping his poise for the most part.”
Cousins looked stunned by the technical call. He got tangled up with Donatas Motiejunas on a rebound and upon review was assessed a tech for what the officials called a “physical taunt.”
“I’ve accepted it, [explicit], they’re after me,” Cousins said. “Just play. Whatever happens, happens.”
The All-Star big left the court and headed to the Kings locker room to take a deep breath.
“I just tried to gather my thoughts, get myself together,” Cousins said following the game. “The last couple of days have been very frustrating for me. I’m looking for it to ease up at some point and it just doesn’t seem like it wants to or is going to happen.”
Cousins returned to the floor and the Pelicans turned up the physical play. Dante Cunningham picked up a call for trying to shove Cousins off the blocks and then rookie Buddy Hield found himself out of the game after hitting the Kings’ star big below the waist fighting through a screen.
After Hield’s ejection, Sacramento responded with a 14-6 run to end the half. They opened the third quarter up with a 13-0 run and put New Orleans on their heels.
“That was a good win for us -- stayed with it,” Joerger said. “[We] didn’t have a great first half, but came out in the second half with a more forceful mindset defensively.”
Sacramento’s defense held New Orleans to just 39 percent shooting after the intermission and they forced the Pelicans into 12 second half turnovers.
Cousins once again put up huge numbers, finishing the night with 28 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. He turned the ball over seven times, but it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. He is trying to reinvent himself on the fly to fit into the standards of the league.
“It’s obvious, I can’t be myself,” Cousins said. “Me playing the way I play is what makes me the player that I am. Obviously it’s not acceptable, so I’m trying to find a way to do what these guys are asking me to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to find a way.”
Sacramento’s star big wasn’t the only one to contribute. Collison scored 20 points, handed out eight assists, grabbed six rebounds and picked up three steals in 41 minutes of action. With the injury to Ty Lawson, the veteran point guard has been forced to play huge minutes for coach Dave Joerger.
Ben McLemore dropped in a pair of 3-pointers during the third quarter surge and finished the night with 11 point.s Matt Barnes chipped in 12 points and five rebounds, while Arron Afflalo nine of his 10 points after halftime.
“It gives us confidence,” Collison said of the win. “We’re playing some good basketball right now. We do have some lapses where we can get better at.”
Anthony Davis had a big night for New Orleans, but Sacramento made adjustments at the half to slow the All-Star center. After posting 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the first 24 minutes of the game, Davis finished the night with 32 points, 10 rebounds and six turnovers.
Jrue Holiday added 16 points, 11 assists, six assists and five steals, but it wasn’t enough for the Pelicans who fell to 21-34 on the season with the loss.
With the victory, Sacramento has rattled off three straight wins and they finished the homestand at 4-2. They moved to within a game and a half of the Denver Nuggets for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but they still have two games on the road before getting a much needed rest at the All-Star break.