Nuggets at Kings: On the road to royalty (8pm MST)

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The Nuggets five-game road trip comes to an end this evening in Sacramento. Yes, the four-game East Coast trip included a couple days off in Denver, but the team wont play in the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center again until they complete tonight's game at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento. This will be the first time the Nuggs face the Kings since they fired head coach Paul Westphal.

Game: 18
Records:
Denver:
12-5 (6-3 on the road)
Streak: Won 4
Sacramento: 6-12 (4-3 at home)
Streak: Lost 2
Injuries:
Denver
: Rudy Fernandez (right Achilles strain) and Arron Afflalo (groin strain) are out. DeMarre Carroll (left hamstring strain) day-to-day, game-time decision.
Sacramento: Marcus Thornton (left thigh contusion) is day-to-day. Chuck Hayes (dislocated left shoulder) is out.

Television: Altitude TV

Season Series: 1-0, Nuggets.

Opposition's Take: SacTown Royalty

After the Nuggets defeated the Kings 110-83 on Jan. 4th, the powers that be in Sacramento finally fired coach Westphal. The reason I say finally is because in the NBA, it's a players league. It was no secret that DeMarcus Cousins, the 5th overall pick in the 2010 draft, was going to remain on the team over Westphal. Coaches come and go in the NBA, players with heavy investments stay.

The day after losing to the Nuggets, the Kings went out and defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 103-100. Cousins and Company showed fight in that game, fight that they hadn't shown since defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in their opener (100-91) and turning some heads along the way.

Cousins and Westphal had their differences, very public differences. Shortly after losing to the New York Knicks on December 31st, Cousins and Westphal had a dispute which led to Westphal releasing this statement:

"DeMarcus Cousins has demanded to be traded. In the best interest of our team as we go forward, he has been directed by me, with the support of management, to stay home from the New Orleans game tonight." Westphal said. -Full story here.

Well, Cousins was welcomed back after sitting out that Hornets game on Jan. 3, where he came off the bench against the Memphis Grizzlies instead of assuming his starting role. And then on Jan. 4th, Cousins again came off the bench against the Nuggets and put up 26 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes. The game wasn't close, yet Cousins remained on the floor during garbage time. Westphal was trying to send a message to his young big man. But the real message was delivered to Westphal after that game, in the form of a pink slip.

The fight the Kings showed against the Bucks the day Westphal was fired was apparent as they climbed back from a 21-point deficit to get the win for new head coach Keith Smart. After the win, Cousins showed a public display of joy for his new coach:

As the buzzer sounded and the home crowd roared, DeMarcus Cousins sought out Keith Smart and bear-hugged the new Sacramento Kings coach in a warm embrace.

"You just felt free out there," Cousins said. "You didn't feel like you had like 30-pound bags on your back. You just felt free. It felt good to be out there." -Full story here.

The lesson learned by Cousins? Continue to whine and cry and baby will get his bottle.

The 6'11'' and 270 pound Cousins is extremely talented. He can play with his back to the basket, can be a pest on the boards (when he feels like it), has the size to defend the biggest centers, and can hit jumpers out to 18-feet.

Since Smart took over as coach, he has re-inserted Cousins to the starting lineup where DeMarcus is averaging 15 points and 11.5 rebounds in 11 games (since that Nuggets game). He has recorded double-digit rebounds in nine of those 11 games, and two 19 rebound games, to boot.

But Cousins' improved play hasn't resulted in a major way in the win/loss column. Since Westphal was let go, the Kings have gone 4-7 under Smart.

Timofey Mozgov will have a big challenge on his hands. The Nuggets haven't seen a talented offensive big man since facing Al Jefferson and the Utah Jazz on January 15th. Cousins presents a unique challenge for the Denver defense and the Kings should be motivated at home.

The Nuggets have a shot to go 5-0 on this East/West Coast road-trip before they return home for a couple contests. Denver will again be without Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez, so it'll be interesting to see if George Karl again used a seven-man rotation or what he will do with his minutes.

Can the Nuggets run the Kings out of their own building? We'll find out later this evening ...

Views you can use:

  • Consistency. That's what Mozgov needs to find. He has shown some scoring pop this season and now must learn how to become a consistent offensive threat. The Moz scored a season high 16 points against the Knicks, but it wasn't his career high. Mozgov put up a career-high 23 points (to go along with 14 rebounds) against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 30th, 2011 when he was a member of the Knicks. Moz also put up 18 points as a member of the Knicks on February 9th, 2011. As a Nugget, his high is 16 points.

  • On the four-game East Coast swing, Al Harrington averaged 20.2 points while shooting 50% from the field (30-60) including 48.3% from deep (15-31), oh and he averaged 7.7 rebounds too.

  • On the four-game East Coast swing, Ty Lawson averaged 7.2 assists and Andre Miller 9.5 assists.

Nate_Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons
ntimmons73@yahoo.com

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