DeMarcus Cousins faces biggest test yet in battle against Joel Embiid

DeMarcus Cousins faces biggest test yet in battle against Joel Embiid

OAKLAND -- It’s 30 hours before he confronts his most challenging test yet this season, and DeMarcus Cousins is fairly relaxed for a guy determined to keep asking his body to do things it might not be ready to do.

He’s done it for five games and has proved to be a significant asset to the Warriors, so why expect anything different because his sixth game, Thursday night, is his first home game and it comes against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, maybe the most gifted young center in the NBA?

“Embiid’s a hell of a player, man, definitely one of the top bigs in this league,” Cousins said Wednesday after practice. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a player. It’s a tough matchup, of course, so it should be fun.”

Embiid is averaging 27.2 points per game, tops among centers. He’s third among centers in rebounding, pulling 13.3 per game, and fourth in assists at 3.6 per, and sixth in blocks at 1.94 per.

Though he is tied with Utah’s Rudy Gobert, each with 41 double-doubles, Embiid has a slight edge in rebounding and a massive advantage in scoring.

Put another way, Embiid doing the things Cousins routinely did prior to rupturing his left Achilles’ tendon a year ago.

Things that Cousins, who was limping slightly on Wednesday, continues to work toward in real time. And he’s appreciably closer now than he was on Jan 18, when he made his Warriors debut.

“I’m a lot more comfortable than I was in that moment,” Cousins said. “Each game, I get a little more comfortable. So it’s just about finding my rhythm again, getting more comfortable with the team, finding my shots, knowing when the ball is coming to me. It’s a combination of all those things.”

Cousins is averaging 15.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists while averaging 21.6 minutes per game – roughly two-thirds as much court time as Embiid’s 33.4. Yet general manager Bob Myers concedes Cousins is delivering more than was expected.

“I know that there are people that were speculating how good or bad it would be,” Myers said on 95.7 The Game. “But . . . all of us would say he’s probably exceeded what we thought. In his mind, he probably thinks he’s doing exactly what he expects of himself.”

And now he gets to chase Embiid, four years younger and nearly two inches taller – and every bit as fiery.

Embiid, 24, has been whistled this season for six technical fouls, not an extraordinarily high number. But also has earned a reputation as someone who doesn’t mind mixing it up physically or verbally.

Like, well, a certain Warriors big man preparing to play his sixth game this season.

“It’ll be fun,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s rare. But each guy has his own dynamic of the modern game: the ability to shoot and put the ball on the floor and make plays from the perimeter. So it’s not quite like an old-school battle on the block. Both guys spend a lot of time on the perimeter. But it’ll be fascinating to watch.”

The toughest test for Cousins thus far was in Boston, where he did a reasonably good job containing Al Horford, one of the league’s more active big men. Horford, however, plays more with finesse than physicality.

Embiid brings both, and at a high level.

Which is why 13 days into his post-surgery career, Cousins is facing as tough a test as he has seen or will see.

Cousins turned his left foot/ankle when falling to the floor Monday night against the Pacers. Asked how he felt he said he’s “cool.” We’ll see how cool, because Embiid more assuredly is going to go right at him.

Monta Ellis reveals 'We Believe' Warriors were doubted by Don Nelson


Monta Ellis reveals 'We Believe' Warriors were doubted by Don Nelson

2007 was an unforgettable season for the Warriors.

Entering the season with minimal expectations, Golden State climbed up the standings late in the year and secured the No. 8 seed, going on to knock off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in a legendary playoff series.

Monta Ellis, who was one of the catalysts for that “We Believe” squad, says that it wasn’t just those outside the organization who entered the season with doubts.

“The one that people really don’t talk about is,” Ellis told Slam Magazine. “That year, [head coach] Don Nelson even came out in the paper and wrote us off. He said we weren’t going to make the playoffs, and we might as well start getting ready for next year and seeing what we could get in the Draft and whatnot.

“We had a lot of veteran guys on the team, and me being a young guy and hungry, we took that to heart. We all came together as a team then. I think we ended up winning 18 of the last 22 or something like that to end up getting into the playoffs as the 8-seed. With that run that we made, it was crazy.”

Ellis was the young guy on a starting unit with veterans like Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Jason Richardson, and floor general Baron Davis.

But instead of fracturing the team, the players actually bonded over trying to prove their coach wrong.

“We didn’t like that [Don said that],” Ellis said. “So we all came together as a team and we just went out there and played. Off the court, you weren’t going to see one without seeing the other 12 or 13 guys. We go to dinner. 

“Whatever we did, we were always together. It carried over to the basketball court. When we were on the basketball court, no matter if the times got tough or anything, we were always able to stay together. We had heated moments. We had heated situations. But nobody ever got personal with it. Nobody ever took it to heart. Everybody was like, Alright, we’re just trying to get better. We saw that. We saw everybody getting better. We saw the team getting better. So we just stuck with it.”

[RELATED: Five memorable Warriors' playoff moments that stick out]

Although Golden State didn’t return to the postseason until 2013, this group remains one of the most iconic Warriors teams of the 2000s.

As some of the players have said in recent years, this team definitely knew how to have a good time off the court, even with coach Nelson.

NBA rumors: League 'angling' to cancel rest of season amid coronavirus

NBA rumors: League 'angling' to cancel rest of season amid coronavirus

As the sports world remains frozen due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA reportedly isn't optimistic it will be able to restart and finish its season.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst went on "SportsCenter" on Friday and gave an update on the league's current line of thinking and the realistic possibility that basketball won't return until next season.

"It's been a bad week," Windhorst said in regards to the feeling the season might not be salvageable. "I think there was optimism about progress a week ago, and some things that have happened this week have turned it south about what could happen. A big factor was what happened in China, where they halted the return of their league and one of the big reasons was they really believed that if they just tested the players' temperature all the time that it would. The Chinese are finding that asymptomatic carriers are causing maybe a second wave in that country. They have just slammed the breaks on sports.

"The talks between the players union and the league this week -- I've talked to both sides of this issue -- and it is clear the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down. Now, they don't have to do that yet, and the way they are negotiating, they are leaving themselves an option either way. But they are not having talks about how to restart the league, they are having financial talks about what would happen if the season shuts down and I think there's a significant amount of pessimism right now."

The NBA reportedly had been looking at the idea of playing the playoffs in Las Vegas while keeping the players in a bubble without fans, but public health officials have poked holes in that idea.

Windhorst noted the NBA is walking a fine line in finishing this season without impacting the 2020-21 season, and the widespread availability of fast, reliable tests will be needed to finish this season.

"They do have runway here," Windhorst said. "I do think that they could go into August or September to finish this season. But I'm not sure they feel confident about that right now. A big factor is testing. We just don't have the testing. At some point, not only does there have to be a test that is quick and can tell if a player is healthy enough to enter the game, you have to know that you have the tests available so that you aren't taking them away from people who need them."

The NBA suspended its season March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Gobert and teammate Donovan Mitchell both have fully recovered from their bouts with COVID-19.

[RELATED: Kerr reminiscing about Warriors' dynastic run amid stoppage]

Not finishing the NBA season would be a tough pill to swallow for the league, its players and its fans, but as we focus on social distancing and flattening the curve, it might be the only option.

As of April 3, there were more than 270,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 7,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and NBC News reporting.