By Josh Dubow
SACRAMENTO — DeMarcus Cousins had 30 points and 14 rebounds to give Sacramento fans plenty more to cheer about than just having a team as the Kings won their season opener 90-88 over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Greivis Vasquez added 17 points and Isaiah Thomas had 16 off the bench to cap a celebratory night in Sacramento as the Kings opened a new era just months after nearly moving to Seattle.
Ty Lawson scored 20 points but missed a potential tying shot in the closing seconds for the Nuggets, who started off Brian Shaw’s tenure with a loss. Shaw took over for last season’s coach of the year George Karl, who was fired after a first-round playoff loss to Golden State despite winning 57 games in the regular season.
The Kings are building their franchise around Cousins, giving him a $62 million, four-year contract extension before the season and giving him a tutor in new minority owner Shaquille O’Neal.
He backed that support up with a strong performance in the opener. Cousins made an emphatic dunk off his own miss to give the Kings an 86-82 with just under 4 minutes left and then drew an offensive foul on Lawson. Thomas followed with a bank shot and the Kings appeared in control.
But the Nuggets answered with six straight points to tie the game at 88 on J.J. Hickson’s drive with 1:37 to play.
Cousins came up with a blocked shot and a deflection on the defensive end for force a shot-clock violation and the Kings went back ahead when Jason Thompson followed Cousins’ miss with a jam with 41.5 seconds to go.
Lawson missed a difficult reverse over Thompson with about 1 second left. The Nuggets got the ball out of bounds with 0.9 seconds left but Randy Foye missed an off-balance jumper at the buzzer.
It was a raucous night in Sacramento where the fans welcomed in a new era led by owner Vivek Ranadive and coach Mike Malone. Dressed in purple “Long Live the Sacramento Kings” t-shirts, the fans were excited to have their team back after years of talk of a possible move to Seattle. They even cheered O’Neal, their longtime antagonist who once referred to the team as “the Queens” when he played for the Lakers.
The loudest cheers were for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who was integral in keeping the Kings here and Ranadive who put up the money to accomplish it. Ranadive proclaimed “This is your team and it’s here to stay!”
The two also thanked commissioner David Stern for his help in keeping the Kings here and gave him a key to the city and a hard hat to symbolize the upcoming project to build a new arena.
The Kings fed off the energy from the crowd to get off to a fast start. Thomas scored seven points during a 12-2 run starting late in the first quarter to give Sacramento an 11-point lead.
But Denver used a three-guard lineup to protect the ball better and fought back to tie the game late in the half before Travis Outlaw’s 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds gave Sacramento a 48-45 lead at the break.
Notes: Nuggets F Wilson Chandler sat out with a stained left hamstring and was replaced in the starting lineup with Anthony Randolph. … The Kings improved to 22-6 in home openers since moving to Sacramento. … Nuggets F Kenneth Faried took a hard fall into the base of the basket when he was fouled by Jason Thompson on an alley-oop attempt.