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.