No one expected DeMarcus Cousins' integration into the core of the lineup for the back-to-back NBA champion Golden State Warriors would go without hiccups.
And, indeed, it has had its ups and downs.
When Cousins was ready to return from the torn Achilles heel he suffered last season as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Warriors won 10 of their first 11 games. Since then, the have tallied a 5-6 record.
Maybe the Warriors are starting to figure out how to play with the 6-foot-11 cousins on the court. Heading into Saturday's game at Oklahoma City, Cousins is coming off his best game with the Warriors.
On Wednesday in a 106-104 win in Houston, Cousins scored 27 points and added eight rebounds and seven assists in 32 minutes. He made 11 of 16 shots from the field.
"I think we need to remind ourselves that he's still pretty early in the process," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "I don't know how many games he's played for us, 20? We're all learning. Me, too. I've got to learn how to use him better.
"We've got 15 games left to continue to figure out how to use everybody - the combinations and all of that stuff."
Cousins gives the Warriors versatility in the middle.
"We've always been a little undersized at the center when we go small, and we haven't had this level of skill with our big centers," Kerr said. "But what he's showing is he's the combination.
"I thought it was his best game of the year against Houston and here comes another matchup where we really, really need him with (Oklahoma City's) Steven Adams."
While Cousins continues to rise after returning from the injury that kept him out for nearly a year, the Warriors will be without another star.
Kevin Durant, who missed Wednesday's win at Houston with a sprained ankle suffered last weekend against Phoenix, will miss the game with a right ankle injury. Coach Steve Kerr told ESPN that Durant "most likely" will return Monday against San Antonio.
Durant has drawn the ire of Thunder fans for the decision he made to join Golden State in free agency after the Warriors beat Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. And while Saturday's meeting will be Golden State's only visit to Oklahoma City this season, Durant is expected back next week. He plans to attend Wednesday's ceremony for the jersey retirement of longtime Thunder teammate Nick Collison.
The Thunder are coming off a disappointing loss at Indiana on Thursday, in which they let a 19-point third-quarter lead slip away before the Pacers hit a tie-breaking shot in the final seconds for a 108-106 win.
The good news for the Thunder came in the second consecutive strong game from Paul George, who is 9-of-17 shooting from behind the 3-point line over the past two games after struggling to be productive from behind the arc in his first four games back after missing three due to a shoulder injury.
George also fought through contact on the inside several times, though his shoulder remains a concern.
"He was big," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "There's no question, the way he works on both ends of the floor, he plays through a lot of contact."
The teams have split their games so far, both in Oakland, Calif.
--Field Level Media