HOUSTON — DeMarcus Cousins used to watch soap operas with his grandmother when he was growing up. She would refer to them as her “stories,” he said, and “As the World Turns” was her favorite. Cousins could never fully relate to the absurd drama of his grandmother’s stories until this season, when he joined the Golden State Warriors.
“Every episode it was something,” he said. “And that’s what this has turned into.”
Cousins is sometimes an innocent bystander. (Consider the midseason beef between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green that stemmed from a late-game meltdown against the Los Angeles Clippers and bled into Durant’s impeding free agency.) But sometimes Cousins is involved, even if it is not his choice. He was aware, for example, before Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets, that members of the news media and the general public were picking apart his defense and referring to him as a liability.
“We all been in this business long enough to know how it goes,” said Cousins, a 6-foot-11 center. “And I’ve been around this team to know how things go around here. You’re always looking for something to make a story. I mean, I could care less. You all got to do your jobs, and I got to do mine.”
For all the laments about Cousins’s vulnerability in pick-and-roll defensive situations, there is no denying his offensive impact when he is focused, and he was supremely focused against the Rockets on Wednesday night, collecting 27 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in a 106-104 victory that infused the team with some positive vibes.
Scoring down low, passing out of the post, setting meaty screens — Cousins does things that the Warriors have seldom featured in their four-plus seasons of dominance.
“For as long as we can remember, we haven’t had a guy we can just throw the ball to in the post and work around him,” Stephen Curry said.
It is still a process, of course, for both the Warriors, who are working to incorporate another mammoth personality into their fold as they pursue a third straight championship, and for Cousins, a four-time All-Star who spent the first few months of the season building strength and working on his conditioning as he recovered from an Achilles’ tendon tear.
Since Cousins made his season debut on Jan. 18, the Warriors are 15-7. But they had lost six of their last 10 games entering Wednesday, and the general mood of the team felt flat. Curry likened it to when Durant joined the Warriors in 2016, and the team spent the first two or three months of the season trying to find its rhythm.
“There was a little sensitivity to how everybody was going to get their shots,” Curry said. “At the end of the day, we’re all talented and we all have high basketball I.Q.s, so just let things happen. You don’t have to force anything. We’ve been good at it at times, and not so good at other times. So it’s just a matter of sticking with the program.”
After sinking 11 of 16 shots against the Rockets, Cousins acknowledged that it was the best he had felt since he made his return.
“I think it’s coming,” Cousins said. “We’ve had stretches where it’s kind of flowing for everybody. But this is a team that’s been together for a while, and they’re used to playing a certain type of way. So for me to just come in — I’m not expecting this team to adjust to me. Obviously, I have to adjust to them.”
Durant missed the game with a sprained ankle, which meant that Cousins had more playmaking opportunities than usual. Coach Steve Kerr made some adjustments, too, staggering Cousins and Green for stretches so that each had more room to operate in the middle of the court. Kerr has also been advising his players to pump the brakes in transition.
“Sometimes we’ve played a little too fast and shot too many quick shots instead of letting him get down on the block and controlling things,” Kerr said, referring to Cousins. He added: “I think we’ve got to remind ourselves that this is still early in the process. We’re all learning. Me too. I’ve got to learn to use him better.”
If Cousins still appears to labor at times (or most of the time) to get overly airborne, his confidence seems fine.
“I don’t think anyone can stop me one on one, period,” he said. “So you can put whoever you want on me.”
The Warriors and the Rockets have history. In last season’s Western Conference finals, Houston had a 3-2 series lead against Golden State, but Chris Paul injured his hamstring in Game 5. The Rockets lost the final two games of the series without him, and the Warriors went on to successfully defend their N.B.A. championship.
Cousins was not involved in that series, but he is a part of the dynamic now — and the Warriors are not quite finished preparing themselves for the postseason. Andrew Bogut, a defense-minded center who last played for Golden State in 2016, is expected to join the team in the coming days after an M.V.P. season with the Sydney Kings of Australia’s National Basketball League. Kerr recently described Bogut as “an insurance policy in the frontcourt.”
Yes, the league’s most compelling drama is about to welcome the return of a former cast member. For his part, Cousins said he would continue to focus on the only role he knows.
“I just want to play basketball,” he said.