Nets face Kings for first time since trade talk

DeMarcus Cousins (AP)
DeMarcus Cousins (AP)
DeMarcus Cousins (AP)

After an embarrassing 25-point demolishing Saturday night at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, the worst offensive team in the NBA outside of the Philadelphia 76ers, the Brooklyn Nets (13-16) end a two-game homestand against the talented Sacramento Kings (13-17), whose record does not match their talent level.

The Nets nearly missed DeMarcus Cousins, who was hospitalized after a rough bout with viral meningitis for ten straight games, then after returning for a brief three-game stint, missed a matchup against the Phoenix Suns with the stomach flu. The Kings were 9-6 before Cousins went down. Cousins returned to the Kings lineup again Saturday night against the New York Knicks and dropped a cool 39 points in 32 minutes, adding 11 rebounds and four assists. So he seems fine.

Cousins is Brooklyn’s biggest test at center since Mason Plumlee entered the lineup as a starter for the injured Brook Lopez. He’s an enormous, ferocious load in the paint, with quick feet, a bruising upper body, and smart passing instincts. The two only played in one game against each other last season, but went at it in a number of practices for Team USA over the summer, so Plumlee got an up close & personal look at what Cousins can do.

It’s also a chance for the two teams — as well as their executives — to see each other in person for the first time since the two teams discussed a trade for embattled Nets point guard Deron Williams.

Though a team source told The Brooklyn Game no formal offer was ever presented to the Nets, to make the deal work would require the Kings to send back Derrick Williams, Jason Thompson, and one more young player, likely point guard Darren Collison to replace Williams in Brooklyn’s backcourt.

Talks stalled when the Kings demanded Mason Plumlee’s inclusion in the deal, and a later report when the teams revisited the deal suggested that the Kings actually wanted Plumlee all along. It’s an odd report, again considering that the Kings have Cousins already, but Plumlee could theoretically fit next to Cousins as a power forward. Plumlee has emerged as a pick-and-roll finisher as well as a rim-runner in his starting role, and it’s coincided with Lopez struggling to get comfortably integrated into the Nets offense, ending Saturday night with his first scoreless game since November of his rookie season.

Williams has struggled in two games since returning from a low-grade calf strain, hitting just four of 13 shots and looking hesitant Saturday night after a decent return against the Boston Celtics earlier in the week. He’s come off the bench behind the torrid Jarrett Jack, who has shot 57 percent from the field since taking over as a starter four games ago.

Jack is a talented playmaker, but he’s also shot a ridiculous 78.3% on mostly unassisted shots from the 6-15 foot range since he became a starter, an area where the league average is around 40%. Jack can hit a floater in the paint with the best of him and has done well with his mid-range jumper, but that’s also just completely unsustainable, and my guess is we’ll see him come back down to earth sometime soon.

Even outside of Cousins & Collison, the Kings have a talented cast of scorers, and they rank 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. They’re led by long & smooth small forward Rudy Gay, averaging 21 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in nearly 37 minutes per game, and second-year guard Ben McLemore has come along nicely after an up-and-down rookie season. The Kings are a talented, athletic team on the wings with a big presence in Cousins inside, and with the Nets struggling to fit their big pieces into place, there’s a danger of another blowout tonight.

We’ll find out at 7:30 P.M. EST.