Meyers Leonard on Tuesday tried to pour water on the simmering coals that is the complicated and volatile backstory of his matchup against Sacramento big man DeMarcus Cousins.
“I don’t have a history with him,’’ Leonard said before a long pause. “That’s what everybody makes it out to be, but it’s not a thing.’’
Later, after he was reminded that both have pushed each other during a game in a manner that drew technical fouls on each player …. and when reminded that Leonard once accused Cousins of dirty play for stepping under his jump shot, causing Leonard to sprain his ankle … and when reminded of last week’s infamous tirade by Cousins directed at Leonard on the Blazers’ bench … Leonard changed his tune.
“It’s not a long history, I would say,’’ Leonard said. “Things have happened, clearly. I don’t know what it is about me that he doesn’t like, but honestly, there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s my job to go out there and compete and make it hard on him.’’
Leonard’s next test will come Wednesday at the Moda Center when the resurgent Kings (14-17) play their final game against the slumping Blazers (13-20), in a game that has a different tenor because of the direction both teams are headed and because of what happened in the last meeting eight days prior, a 126-121 Kings’ victory when Cousins had 55 points.
It was a wild night, not only because Cousins’ was unstoppable and the Blazers blew a 12-point lead, but also because Cousins’ tirade at Leonard – which included spitting his mouthpiece at the Blazers’ bench -- was momentarily ejected , then brought back from the locker room and into the game when a technical foul was rescinded by the officials.
Cousins’ return to the game was important, as he sealed the victory with a block of Damian Lillard with 30 seconds remaining.
After the game, Leonard said Cousins was “very vulgar” and “downright disrespectful” and “over-the-line” and should have been ejected. Meanwhile, Cousins mocked Leonard by pretending to not know his name.
Leonard on Tuesday said, from his vantage point, Cousins’ end-of-the-game antics and insults will have no bearing on tonight’s matchup.
“Dead honest? No,’’ Leonard said “I’ve always approached him a little differently, because you have to, that’s all there is to it. I’ll be ready to go. Watching my film from last game, individually, not anything to do with team, in (isolation plays) he has … I feel like I do a pretty good job on him. I’ve guard him pretty well every time I’ve stepped on the floor in iso’s and 1-on-1 situations.’’
Leonard said he deduced Cousins scored only eight of his 55 points when guarded by Leonard one-on-one, and coach Terry Stotts on Tuesday acknowledged that Leonard has “had some moments” and “competed well” against Cousins.
Leonard gained some attention last season when he had two effective games against Cousins early in the season. In December, he played 30 minutes in Sacramento and had 16 points and 11 rebounds while offering the most resistance defensively during Cousins’ 36-point performance on 12-of-26 shooting.
The next month in Portland, Leonard played 24 minutes against Cousins and was effective on both ends of the court. He hit three three-pointers, and held the All-Star to 4-of-21 shooting in the Blazers’ win.
Leonard missed the final two matchups after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
In the second matchup, Cousins pushed Leonard in the back away from the play. Leonard immediately retaliated with a push to Cousins’ chest, and both were assessed technicals.
“He’s extremely talented individual, but I think he tries to physically outman you and really lay it to you, so when he hits you, you got to hit him back that’s all there is to it,’’ Leonard said. “You have to stand your ground and let him know you will be there all night. That’s what that was.’’
Leonard (7-foot-1, 255 pounds) has never been shy in identifying Cousins as one of his favorite matchups, and routinely says he gets up for the meeting. He said a key to defending the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins is to meet him early with contact before Cousins can establish and seal position down low. By nature, that ignites some rough play, Stotts said.
“Different players get up for different players,’’ Stotts said. “When two guys get going at it, physical, it can be combative. I think it’s the nature of the game, when you are put in those situations your competitive juices rise to the situation.’’
Where this rivalry or storyline goes next, nobody knows, but the stakes are much larger than they have ever been. Sacramento has won four in a row and has overtaken Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Blazers, meanwhile, have lost a season-high six in a row and trail the Kings by two games.
For his part, Leonard says he will be zeroed in on the gameplan, not the history between he and Cousins.
“I’ll come into the game focused and ready to go,’’ Leonard said.
Note: Blazers' star Damian Lillard on Tuesday did not practice on his sprained left ankle and Stotts said the guard is doubtful to play against the Kings. Lillard missed the Blazers' game Monday against Toronto with the injury, which he suffered in the fourth quarter of the Dec. 23 game against San Antonio.