Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins hoping 5th time's the charm to make All-Star team

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SACRAMENTO, California — DeMarcus Cousins has the statistics. He has the stature. And he has the support of several high-profile peers calling for him to get his first All-Star nod.

What he doesn't have is a winning team.

Just about everybody around the NBA agrees that the Sacramento Kings' franchise center has blossomed into one of the league's best big men. Based on ballot returns the past few years, though, many still don't believe he's done enough with the Kings to earn All-Star status in the deep Western Conference.

Fans left Cousins out of the mix again when the starters were announced last week. The reserves, voted on by the coaches, will be revealed Thursday night, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will select any injury replacements before the marquee game at New York's Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

Count Cousins among those wondering if he finally has the right resume — and reputation — in his fifth season to trump Sacramento's shortcomings.

"To be totally honest, it is what it is," Cousins said. "If I make it, I make it. If I don't, I don't."

Coaches must vote for three frontcourt players, two guards and two wild cards. Cousins' main competition in the frontcourt is Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and Houston's Dwight Howard.

The biggest thing hurting Cousins' campaign — besides the competition — is his team's worsening record.

After starting 9-5 this season, the Kings (16-27) have collapsed since Cousins came down with viral meningitis in late November. They went 2-8 during his sick leave — which coincided with Michael Malone's stunning firing as coach — and have failed to pick up the pieces under short-term replacement Tyrone Corbin.

Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players, but Corbin believes Cousins shouldn't be penalized because of all the chaos around him.

"It's the All-Star game. It's about individual performances," Corbin said. "You look at (team records) sometimes, but I think most cases on the All-Star performance they look at the guy and his numbers and what he's doing for this year. He's certainly having a great year where we haven't won the number of games that we would like to win."

Cousins began to repair his volatile image when he helped Team USA win gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain over the summer, and his game has continued to rise during another disappointing season in California's capital city.

He entered Wednesday averaging career highs of 24.2 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per game, staggering statistics by most traditional metrics. He was also eighth in the NBA in player efficiency rating at 25.78.

Perhaps most importantly, his emotional and often unpredictable behavior has improved — at least by his standards. After compiling a league-most 33 technical fouls the last two years, Cousins has just four this season.

"You can tell there's been a lot of growing on his side as a player," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He is playing more efficiently. I feel sometimes he gets frustrated and that works in our favor. I feel this year he's the one getting guys frustrated and it's worked for them."

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he's noticed a difference, too.

"He's grown up emotionally," Rivers said. "His game has grown up. I think he's the best low-post player in the league, and he's doing it every night. He's doing more than just scoring. He's doing everything. I'm just very proud of him."

Rivers later said Cousins is an All-Star in his mind, and so have most coaches this season. Of course, many have said such things publicly in the past.

How they vote will be the true test of their resolve.

Golden State's Steve Kerr, who is coaching the Western Conference in the All-Star game, said most coaches will side with the player on the better team when making a close call. The same reasoning is why Kerr is confident Klay Thompson will join Stephen Curry on the West team and represent the NBA-leading Warriors (36-7).

Asked specifically about Cousins, Kerr said he's one of the few players in the league that his staff centers its game plan around. But he stopped short of saying whether he'd select Cousins on the crowded ballot.

"There is no doubt that he is an All-Star-caliber player, but it's musical chairs in the West," Kerr said. "There are only so many spots. I don't know how it will play out."


Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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