NEW ORLEANS — The Sacramento Kings already were down two injured starters who account for 37 points and 10 assists per game — small forward Rudy Gay and point guard Darren Collison.
And, suddenly, they were without their head coach, Michael Malone, who apparently said a few too many magic words to referee Eric Lewis and wound up receiving his first NBA ejection with 4:42 left in the first half.
No Gay, no Collison, no Malone — no problem.
Reserve forward Omri Casspi scored 22 points in 36 minutes and center DeMarcus Cousins added 22 points and 12 rebounds to spark the Kings to a 99-89 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center.
“It was not my intent to get thrown out of the game, obviously,” Malone said, whose team led 40-35 at the time he locked horns with Lewis. “I apologized to our players for that, but (assistant coach) Tyrone (Corbin) and the entire coaching staff did a great job coaching them that second half. It was really tough to sit here in the locker room and watch the second half. The time went very, very slowly.”
Cousins and Casspi made it easier for Malone to watch. The pair combined for 19 third-quarter points — with Casspi scoring nine straight in 3:02 stretch — as Sacramento broke open a 49-49 halftime tie to take a 75-70 lead after three.
Cousins came out in the third quarter and hit his first three shots, a power move to the basket, a 15-foot jumper and an 18-foot fallaway.
“When I saw him score the first three baskets, I knew that he was going to do whatever he needed to do to put this team on his back to get the win,” Malone said. “I’m very biased, but I think Cuz is the best big man in the NBA. … He deserves the credit, not Team USA, not anybody else. DeMarcus Cousins deserves the credit.”
Cousins said he knew during halftime that he would have to take the lead on both ends of the court.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We had a little adversity at halftime with the whole coach situation and got a couple of calls that didn’t go our way. It would have easily went their way with the momentum. So I just tried to come out and be aggressive, hit them in the mouth early and get our team rolling.”
The Kings extended their lead to 88-79 with 6:46 left on two free throws by guard Ray McCallum. Casspi put away the game with a driving layup, which he then followed up with a steal of a Jrue Holiday pass and a full-court drive to the basket. When guard Ramon Sessions hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Sacramento led 95-81 with 4:05 left. The Pelicans (7-6) never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
Sacramento (9-5) is off to its best start since getting out of the gate 13-5 in 2004-05.
Guard Tyreke Evans had 22 points for New Orleans, and forward Ryan Anderson added 20 points off the bench. Coach Monty Williams said he was most displeased that leading scorer Anthony Davis got only 12 shots. Davis finished with 14 points, 12 below his scoring average.
“The guys don’t recognize that he has to touch the ball, he has to get shots to help us be a good team,” Williams said. “They have to understand that Anthony is our best player, and he’s got get more opportunities.”
Cousins said the Kings tried to force Davis away from his “sweet spots,” especially in the area around the basket where he usually swoops in for lob passes for slam dunks. Davis made just 4 of 12 from the floor.
“I wasn’t getting a lot of easy looks,” Davis said. “They just outworked us and made sure that we didn’t get easy catches and take easy shots. It’s tough to play like that.”
Malone’s ejection came after he was incensed that no foul was called on a driving layup attempt by Sessions. Malone argued the call, and Lewis immediately called him for two technicals.
“I obviously was fighting for one of my players,” Malone said. “Eric Lewis … is a class act. I’ve got no problems with Eric. He’s a very good ref, a good guy. He made the call. Obviously, I didn’t agree with it.”
NOTES: Darius Miller went scoreless (on 0-for-3 shooting) after starting at small forward as the Pelicans shuffled their lineup due to the left shoulder injury suffered by SG Eric Gordon, who is out indefinitely. Tyreke Evans, who has played some small forward, rotated over to Gordon’s guard position. “Eric is a guy who can shoot the ball and was starting to get his rhythm back,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “Without Eric, it takes away some of our shooting.” … C Omer Asik returned to the starting lineup after missing four games with back spasms. … The Kings were without F Rudy Gay, who is resting right Achilles tendinitis, and PG Darren Collison, who has a left quad bruise. … Williams said PF Anthony Davis’ offensive efficiency reminds him of former Spurs teammate David Robinson, who “could fill up a stat sheet. I think A.D. does the same thing, but he does it so efficiently. He’s not jacking up bad shots.”
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