If you knew that Orlando Magic star center Dwight Howard would finish Sunday's game against the Sacramento Kings with just five points and four rebounds, you would probably think that either the Magic won in a blowout or the Kings managed to pull out an upset at home. Instead, Howard's nondescript performance managed to rather comfortably fade into the background of a 104-97 Magic road win. After firing head coach Paul Westphal, agreeing to terms with new head coach Keith Smart on a two-year deal and engineering an improbable 21-point comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks all on Thursday, the Kings could not conjure up the same inspired play on Sunday afternoon against Orlando.
DeMarcus Cousins has been the center of attention in Sacramento for the wrong reasons over much of the past week. Since the new year, the talented but emotional big man has publicly criticized Westphal's coaching, reportedly demanded a trade and earned an informal suspension from the team. Thankfully, he has been much better on the court during that same period of time. He returned to action against the Bucks and put up a monster game with 19 points and 15 rebounds, then added another quality performance against the Magic.
The Kings fed Cousins from the get-go, and it worked like a charm. Cousins gained great position in the lane to seal Dwight Howard for an easy dunk on his first shot attempt, and then put two fouls on Howard in the first two minutes of the game. DMC scored 10 of the Kings' first 11 points, and finished with 16 points on 6-8 shooting to go with 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and 5 turnovers. The only person who could really stop Cousins was himself. Aside from the five turnovers, he only played 22 minutes due to foul trouble. He picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in under a minute worth of game time and had to hit the bench with 6:54 left in the third quarter, but otherwise played very well. In contrast, Howard finished the third quarter with zero points, one turnover, one assist and four fouls in just eight minutes.
Tyreke Evans kept the Kings close even while Cousins rode the pine. He gashed the Magic interior defense to the tune of 28 points and 8 assists, but gave everyone a scare with 56.6 seconds remaining in the first half. After failing to gain separation from Chris Duhon on a euro-step move in transition, Evans landed awkwardly on his left ankle trying to finish a layup in transition. He crumpled onto the hardwood and writhed in pain while grabbing his ankle, but it turned out to be nothing more than a false alarm. He started the second half and showed no real signs of pain after returning to the floor. For anyone still worried about his mobility or the stability of his ankle, Tyreke will show you he is just fine:
Meanwhile, Jason Richardson and Glen Davis did enough damage on offense to keep the Magic working from the front for most of the night. Without Howard on the floor, Orlando went to Big Baby in mid-post isolations and he responded with 20 points and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes. As for Richardson, he led the offensive attack with 22 points on 9-16 shooting to go with 5 assists. Former California Golden Bear Ryan Anderson salvaged his return to California by scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds despite shooting just 5-16 from the field on the night.
In the end, 17 turnovers and 3-20 (15 percent) shooting from the arc doomed a Kings comeback. Down 87-85 with 6:20 left in the game, the Kings proceeded to mix in three misses from long range and two turnovers as they unsuccessfully chased the Magic until the final buzzer sounded. With the loss the Kings move to 3-6, while the Magic climb to 6-3.