Not everything went smoothly for the Kings, who lost eight of 10 prior to the All-Star break. They played sloppy at times, committing 22 turnovers that led to 34 Denver points. But Cousins was dominant inside and Sacramento shot 49 percent to win its second straight.
An All-Star for the second straight year, Cousins was at his best against the Nuggets. He made 12 of 20 shots, hit 12 of 15 free throws and got his ninth career double-double with 20-plus points and rebounds, breaking the previous Sacramento record set by Chris Webber.
"(Cousins) was flat-out amazing. They couldn't stop him," Darren Collison said. "He's been playing like that all season."
Rondo was a huge factor as well, coming one assist short of his sixth triple-double this season. He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Rudy Gay had 24 points, Collison scored 17 and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein had 10.
"I thought Rondo had great control of the game, not only down the stretch, (but) I think understanding who we were playing and what we had to do to be successful," Kings coach George Karl said.
Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with 27 points. Joffrey Lauvergne had a career-high 22, Will Barton had 17 and Gary Harris added 14. Denver had won three of four, but struggled to contain the Kings offensively and also committed 18 turnovers.
Cousins got it going early, having his way inside among a number of Nuggets defenders. He scored 24 first-half points, helping the Kings take a 70-57 lead by halftime.
"(Cousins) dominated us and we couldn't stop him," Gallinari said. "I guess we are going to have to do something differently the next time we see them (Tuesday in Denver). We have to do something."
Ahead by five points, Rondo converted on a driving layup and Collison followed with a fast-break layup, putting the Kings ahead 109-100 with 1:52 remaining.
The Kings took the lead early in the first quarter and never trailed again while winning for just the third time in 11 games.
The slide had led to pre-All-Star speculation that Karl would be fired, but he received a vote of confidence just before the break from general manager Vlade Divac.
"We were a little bit aggressive, especially the first unit in the first 5 minutes (of the game) when we got some steals," Collison said. "We're at our best when we play defense like that and we get out in transition."
It was a sloppy game from the start with both teams making careless turnovers. Although Denver outscored the Kings in the second half, the effort came too late.
"The Kings came out to play with a sense of urgency. They are trying to make the playoffs like we are, Utah, and Portland, and it showed," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "We did not respond until the second half when it was too late."
KINGS FANS CHEER RETURN OF MALONE
The game marked the return to Sleep Train Arena for Malone, who was fired last December as Kings coach. Malone was cheered by fans during introductions, who probably recalled he had the Kings off to a 9-5 start last season before an injury sidelined Cousins, a losing streak ensued, and several weeks later he was fired.
"It (the attention) sucked and we lost," Malone said. "That's the only thing that mattered to me. Not all the hoopla and not all the paparazzi before the game with cameras. I don't know what the big deal is. I was here for a season and a half. I got fired, came back, and all I cared about was coming in here to get a win and we didn't do that. It's disappointing."
Nuggets: Reserve center Jusuf Nurkic and Rondo were called for double technicals after a first-quarter altercation near the Kings bench. ... Acquired in a trade Thursday from Oklahoma City, D.J. Augustin looked good in a reserve role, getting eight points, six assists and three steals in 19 minutes. ... Malone received a technical in the second quarter after arguing a charging foul in front of the Denver bench.
Kings: Key reserves Marco Belinelli and Omri Casspi were both sidelined after having tooth extractions during the All-Star break. ... Gay made all four 3-pointers and scored 16 first-half points. ... Rondo entered the game averaging 11.9 assists, which is on pace to be most since John Stockton's 12.3 in 1994-95. . The Kings made 10 3-pointers in the first half and none in the second.
Nuggets: Host Boston on Sunday night.
Kings: Visit Denver on Tuesday night.
- Gary Zielinski
- Tom Washington
- Scott Twardoski