Kings-Nets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 05, 2013
Brook Lopez is the highest scoring center in the NBA, but DeMarcus Cousins isn't far behind. Although Cousins got the better of the most recent matchup, it was Lopez and the Brooklyn Nets that emerged with the win. The centers will be matched up for the final time this season as the Nets and Sacramento Kings attempt to continue their respective surges Saturday night at Barclays Center. Lopez leads all starting centers with an average of 18.9 points, while Cousins has 17.1 per game and has added 10.3 rebounds. Cousins was much more productive than his counterpart on Nov. 18, scoring 29 points while holding Lopez to 13. However, Brooklyn (18-15) won 99-90 for its sixth victory in the last eight meetings. Both teams enter this matchup having won four of five with their respective centers playing key roles. Lopez is averaging 24.8 points and 9.0 boards while hitting 60.0 percent from the floor in that span, while Cousins has 19.4 points and 14.0 rebounds in five games since missing two due to a team suspension for unprofessional behavior. Cousins had one of the best games of his career in Friday's 105-96 win at Toronto, scoring a season-high 31 points and matching a career best with 20 rebounds. ''He had the right energy to start the game, he had the right mindset of not trying to score 50 but trying to let his teammates play,'' coach Keith Smart said. ''He's in a good spot as a basketball player right now and he's only going to get better.'' While Lopez is surrounded by All-Star guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, Cousins' play for Sacramento is vital with swingman Tyreke Evans out with a knee injury. That's likely why Smart called him, "the guy who makes it all work for us." The Kings (13-20) surely see that as a welcome change for Cousins, a noted malcontent who has already been suspended three times in less than three full seasons. "He's involved and he's understanding the game better," said John Salmons, who had 20 points Friday. "He's understanding what it takes to win. He's trying to do to things for this team to move up in the standings and make a playoff push." Salmons is averaging 15.0 points in his last four games, but he had just two in nearly 28 minutes against the Nets in November. The Kings notched their second straight road win Friday after winning once in their first 14 games away from home. They haven't managed a three-game road win streak since March 23-27, 2011. "We're playing some good team basketball," Cousins said. "It doesn't matter who's having a good night, let's feed them the rock. That's been our mindset and it's been working." The Nets, though, have a three-game home winning streak against the Kings, and Lopez has totaled 55 points and 19 rebounds in the past two. He had 27 points and 13 rebounds before Johnson hit the go-ahead jumper with 0.7 seconds left in Friday's 115-113 double-overtime win at Washington. Johnson finished with 18 points, while Williams added 24 with 10 assists. "That's what big-time players do. We put him in a good position to make the play, and he made the play," coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Johnson after improving to 4-1 since taking over for the fired Avery Johnson. Johnson wasn't very good against Sacramento two months ago, making 1 of 10 shots from the floor and finishing with 10 points. He had been averaging 24.4 points over the previous eight meetings.
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