SACRAMENTO, Calif. - As strange as it sounds, DeMarcus Cousins just might be one of the most underrated players in the NBA.
That's because there's more focus on the Sacramento Kings center's off-the-court antics and perceived bad attitude than his being a two-time all-star.
But . . .
"You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who is a more difficult defensive assignment in the NBA right now," said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose squad lost, 102-100, to the Kings on Monday night at Golden 1 Center.
Brown noted that Cousins scored 55 points earlier this month against the Portland Trail Blazers. As the Sixers (7-23) found out, the 6-foot-11, 270-pounder can score in a variety of ways. In addition to being a dominant post player, the seventh-year veteran has developed into a solid three-point shooter.
His biggest shot of the night came on a three-pointer to give the Kings a 99-97 lead with 20.9 seconds left in the game.
The Sixers had an opportunity to claim victory, but Ersan Ilyasova missed a 13-foot jumper coming out of a timeout. Joel Embiid then fouled Garrett Temple, and the Kings' reserve went on to convert a pair of foul shots to give them a 101-97 lead with 14.9 seconds left.
But Sergio Rodriguez made a three-pointer to close the gap to a point. After being fouled, Cousins made a foul shot to push the Kings lead back up to two points. Then he blocked Embiid's shot on the ensuing possession. After getting the rebound, Embiid shot an airball three-pointer as time expired.
"I thought DeMarcus fouled me," Embiid said of the block. "His hand [was] on my hip. And when I was about to shoot, he touched my elbow and he blocked a shot. I thought it was a foul, but they didn't call it.
"So I feel they are probably going to go back and watch it, and realize it's a foul."
Brown went back and watched it. That's when the coach realized it was a good defensive play by the big man.
Cousins finished with 30 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks to lead the Kings (14-17) to their fourth consecutive win. He went 2 for 4 on three-pounders and made 8 of 9 foul shots.
"I feel like the league completely understands how gifted he is as an offensive player," Brown said. "Perhaps in totality the marketplace doesn't judge him like they should. He really is a scary proposition of how to guard him."
Meanwhile, Embiid deserves to play in the all-star game in New Orleans on Feb. 19. The Sixers rookie center had 25 points to go with eight rebounds, two steals, one assist and two blocks. His lone blemish was eight turnovers.
"That kid is special, man," Cousins said. "All jokes aside, I really think he's a good player. This is my first time ever interacting with Embiid and also feeling how physical he is as well.
"His talent is through the roof. Once he gets a better understanding of the game, it's going to be scary."
The Sixers scrapped the twin towers lineup at the start of second half Monday.
Perhaps, they should consider dropping it for the rest of the season. They looked more fluid even though they blew an eight-point, fourth-quarter advantage.
Down by 51-47, the Sixers inserted Ersan Ilyasova in the starting lineup at power forward. Embiid, who started at power forward, slid over to his traditional center position. Meanwhile, the game's starting center Jahlil Okafor came off the bench after intermission.
The move cut down on the Kings' points in the paint. They had 34 at intermission and just 18 afterward. With Embiid away from the basket in the first half, the Sixers' interior defense resembled a layup line. The Kings kept driving the lane and scoring at will.But in the second half, things were more fluid on both ends of the floor for the Sixers. They also finished the game with a balanced attack.
Rodriguez added 18 points for the Sixers. Ilyasova finished with 17 points and Dario Saric had 12. Okafor had six points in 20 minutes, while Nerlens Noel had three in four minutes – all in the first half.