HANG TIME WEST – Welcome to the new DeMarcus Cousins Watch, the one about whether he plays in the fourth quarter, unlike the one tracking suspensions and technicals, or the one measuring his foul troubles, or the one gauging the mood of the locker room being brought down by behavior issues of its best player.
Cousins has been benched for most of the fourth quarter each of the last two games, and the fourth quarter of close games at that time in a season (OK, a decade) when Kings’ victories are at a premium and opportunities cannot be wasted. But there he sat Tuesday against the Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena and Wednesday against the Warriors at Oracle Arena, and that takes it from one-time occurrence on bad nights to possible emerging trend.
That, in turn, makes the Suns’ visit to Sacramento tonight unexpectedly interesting, this new twist in the three-season saga of Cousins vs. his demons that has held the Kings hostage. He remains too talented to dump for nothing and too emotionally fractured to reach his All-Star potential and build around, and now he is also sitting in favor of Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes when the Kings twice have chances to beat opponents bound for the playoffs.
Cousins was terrible in Oakland, making two of 10 shots and managing five points and four rebounds, although also four steals, in 20 minutes against Andrew Bogut working his way back from two injuries. It’s being kind to say Cousins appeared disengaged. Off that night, he deserved the bench.
Except that it wasn’t just that night. Some 24 hours earlier, Cousins was equally AWOL on offense with one basket in 12 tries. But he had five blocks. He had 13 rebounds. And coach Keith Smart took him out with 10:15 left and the Kings down 10. When Sacramento rallied with the smaller lineup, getting within 101-97 with 5:36 remaining, Smart kept Cousins on the bench.
Against the Warriors, it was the entire fourth quarter as the Kings again played well enough to threaten a better team, this time leading by a point in the final minute before losing 87-83.
“I think he’s engaged,” Smart said. “But I think he’s in a slump right now. It’s the last two games, a couple games, he’s not getting what he wants. But that’s what happens. You’ve got to learn how to grow out of these. You’ve got to learn how to play out of them. You’ve got to figure out, ‘Is it how I’m on the floor playing,’ or ‘Get back into my working game and work on some of the things, get back in the film room.’ Do all those things. I look at the games that we’re playing here on out. He’s still got to do everything he’s supposed to do as if this is game number five. You don’t change. You still come in and work on your game. This is all our players. This isn’t going to be a DeMarcus Cousins show. This is for all our guys. You keep working on your game until the final horn sounds. That’s how I approach it and I want those guys to approach it.”
Cousins conceded he is not in a good shooting rhythm and that he isn’t getting to the spots he wants for the shots. But he said he has not clocked out of the season five or six weeks ahead of schedule.
“Am I disappointed?” to not play in the fourth quarters, he said, repeating the question after the Warriors game. “Yes. But I can’t really control it.”
Are you surprised?
“You just kind of expect anything here.”
Has Smart said anything to you about why you are being benched in crunch time?
Do you try to talk to him?
“Not at all.”
What do you mean by expecting anything around the Kings?
“Just what I said.”
Tonight against the Suns will be a good test, on whether Cousins can’t break out of the shooting slump and, in the bigger picture, whether Smart will rely on him if it’s close in the fourth.