Nuggets coach Michael Malone on DeMarcus Cousins: “He’s found a home”

Austin Rivers was hot, and it wasn’t the kind that helped end the Portland Trail Blazers’ season last spring.

A few minutes into the fourth quarter late Monday, Rivers turned a corner with Magic rookie Jalen Suggs on his hip. After what appeared to be significant contact on a layup attempt, the Nuggets’ guard was left planted on the baseline while the play took off the other direction. With no foul called, Rivers stalked toward an official, begging for a technical foul that quickly came. As Rivers continued voicing his displeasure, in stepped DeMarcus Cousins, who might be the best human barricade in the NBA.

“I told him, ‘Man, you keep stressing, you’re gonna look like me up top,’” said Cousins, laughing and pointing to his thinning hairline.

Cousins, whose temper occasionally gets in the way of his production, got involved to ensure Rivers wasn’t ejected. It was just one small moment during a 121-111 win over the Magic, but one that was indicative of the respect Cousins already commands.

Cousins, who the Nuggets signed to another 10-day contract after their quiet trade deadline last Thursday, has had a positive impact on the locker room so far. And that’s to say nothing of his production. Against the Magic, Cousins had nine points and five rebounds in 12 minutes. His mammoth two-handed jam, off a feed from Facu Campazzo, ignited Ball Arena and jolted his teammates off the bench.

“I haven’t seen DeMarcus roll in like four years,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone joked. “Like I told him after the game, he goes, ‘Yeah, you haven’t seen that in a minute.’ I said, ‘A minute? Like a minute minute.’”

Cousins took exception with Malone’s jab, claiming he dunked like that only a month ago.

“I got some film from Milwaukee,” he quipped.

Cousins wasn’t about to be short-changed by his biggest advocate in the organization.

He was part of another stellar bench effort that yielded 37 points and lifted Nikola Jokic on a night when the MVP wasn’t as efficient (26 points on 26 shots) as usual. Cousins said when he initially spoke with Nuggets management, they explained to him how inconsistent the bench had been all season.

Cousins made a point of bringing “new energy,” as he described it, to Denver’s reserves.

On Monday, that came in the form of bone-rattling screens as he and JaMychal Green helped free Bryn Forbes for 16 points and three 3-pointers.

“I’m very grateful for those two,” Forbes said. “Big bodies that want to hit people and get me open.”

When Cousins was relayed the message of Forbes’ gratitude, he smiled.

“He better be,” Cousins said.

Throughout his six games in Denver no one has vouched for Cousins like Malone. Their bond started when Malone coached Cousins in Sacramento and has endured along all of his subsequent stops.

Outside of Cousins, no one’s been happier to see his success than Malone.

“You can see all the guys on our bench, even on the court and on the bench, how much they’re rooting for DeMarcus, which is really neat for me, just from a personal level, from a family atmosphere type of a thing,” Malone said. “Like here’s DeMarcus, four-time All-Star, out of the league. Shouldn’t be the case, and he’s here with us, he’s found a home.

“I love him, and I think you can see all the teammates, when he has a play like that, whether it’s blocking a shot, rolling and dunking, hitting a three, you can feel the energy.”

When he checked out after a productive stint Monday night, he was greeted to a standing ovation from the Nuggets faithful.

According to Malone, he’s injected the same energy into his new team. During the team’s flight home from Toronto, Malone joked it was hard not to hear Cousins’ commentary.

“DeMarcus is a personality,” Malone said. “He’s a loud personality. We need that. Reminds me when we had Isaiah Thomas.”

That experiment didn’t go as well as the Nuggets hope the Boogie one will. Asked about that plane ride, Cousins again showed his veteran savvy.

“What happens on the plane, stays on the plane,” he said with a smile.

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