SACRAMENTO, California — DeMarcus Cousins likes the way the Kings are clicking on offense. It's the defense, though, that really has Sacramento's big man smiling — even if there have been a few breakdowns along the way.
Cousins had 30 points and 11 rebounds, Rudy Gay scored 29 and the Kings beat the Denver Nuggets 131-109 Wednesday night to extend their best start in more than a decade.
"Us playing defense the way we are, communicating and playing together, is helping on the offensive end," Cousins said. "Playing defense, I believe, helps build chemistry. We trust in one another and it's going over to the other side of the floor."
Darren Collison added 10 points and eight assists, and Carl Landry had 18 points off the bench to help Sacramento to its second win over Denver in three days and fourth straight overall following a season-opening loss to Golden State.
The Kings improved to 4-1 for the first time since 2001-02, when they won the Pacific Division and grabbed the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They haven't been back to the postseason since 2007.
Sacramento did it despite giving up 35 points in the second quarter and 37 in the fourth.
"Tonight was a Jekyll and Hyde night," coach Mike Malone said. "I don't want us creating poor habits, and to allow a team to score 37 points in the fourth quarter the way they did is really unacceptable."
Ty Lawson had 13 points and nine assists for Denver (1-3).
Sacramento scored 40 points in the first quarter, led by as many as 36 and had six players in double figures.
Cousins led the surge with his third double-double in five games before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
With Denver center JaVale McGee getting limited minutes while still recovering from last season's broken leg, Cousins dominated in the low post early against backup Timofey Mozgov and met little resistance from the Nuggets' soft interior defense.
Cousins scored 26 in the first half and made 10 of 14 shots overall.
At one point in the second half, Cousins — generally among the NBA leaders in technical fouls — was hacked by two Denver defenders while trying to score under the basket. Mozgov was called for the foul, argued and picked up a technical while Cousins clapped his hands and walked away smiling.
Denver couldn't keep up.
The Nuggets fell behind early, then trimmed a 21-point deficit to 60-52 on Nate Robinson's layup with 1:37 left before Sacramento closed the half on an 8-2 run.
Gay blocked a layup by McGee late in the third quarter and Reggie Evans scored on a fast break to make it 105-70.
"Basically in a nutshell, we were too soft on defense," said Denver's Wilson Chandler, who had 13 points. "We can't point fingers. It was everybody all the way across the board."
Cousins carried on a running conversation with Nuggets coach Brian Shaw the entire game, and at one point walked over to Denver's bench and needled the players for the way they were defending him. "Are you guys kidding me?" Cousins said as he walked by. Shaw was disappointed his players didn't respond. "Nobody else took it personally," Shaw said. "The way I feel about that is if nobody wants to stand up to it, then we should get out butts kicked and we did. He should talk to us that way if we don't have any professional pride as a group."
Nuggets: Shaw continues to take a cautious approach with McGee. The 7-footer missed almost all of 2013-14 with a left tibia stress fracture and has been coming off the bench this season. McGee got off to a sloppy start against Sacramento and picked up two fouls in his first 3 minutes, bobbled away an easy pass into the post and was called for traveling. He finished with nine points and two rebounds. "JaVale is still trying to build up his stamina," Shaw said. "He's been getting tired really quickly." ... Lawson moved past Nick Van Exel into fifth place on Denver's career list with 2,056 assists. ... Kenneth Faried was held to a season-low four points.
Kings: The 40 points in the first quarter were a season high. ... Ben McLemore is playing with a large bandage over his right eye, remnants of a preseason injury when he butted heads with Wayne Ellington of the Lakers. ... Sacramento went 39 of 50 from the free throw line. The Kings took 47 free throws against the Nuggets on Monday.
Nuggets: Play at Cleveland on Friday.
Kings: Visit Phoenix on Friday to begin a four-game road trip.
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