#3: DeMarcus Cousins vs Nikola Vucevic
The Houston Rockets’ number one goal going into their matchup with the Orlando Magic is to slow down Nikola Vucevic. The Swiss Center has gotten off to a scorching start and is the primary reason the Magic are 6-2 this season.
With Christian Wood a game-time decision because of knee soreness the responsibility to slow Vucevic down will likely fall on DeMarcus Cousins. No player has flown under the radar more than Vucevic over the past few seasons.
Since the 2018-19 season, Vucevic has averaged 20.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game on 50.4-percent shooting from the field and 35.7-percent from 3-point range. What further separates Vucevic from the field is that he has posted a 20.7-percent assist-percentage over that period of time.
Outside of Nikola Jokic, no other center combines the shooting, rebounding, and passing that Vucevic possesses and it’s the main reason that the Magic look poised to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season. It’s early but this looks to be Vucevic’s finest season yet, as he is sporting career-best in points per game, 3-point shooting, and win shares per 48 minutes.
DeMarcus Cousins won’t be asked to shut down Vucevic but he’ll need to slow him down and there are a few ways to wear him down. The first course of action is to attack him relentlessly on offense in the early going.
Whether it’s post-ups or the pick and roll the Rockets should target Vucevic and force him to work on the defensive end. Cousins is perfect for this role as he is one of the strongest players in the league and defending him in the post takes its toll on a defender.
On offense, Vucevic is one of the most dangerous shooters in the league and is capable of scoring from any spot on the floor. For Cousins to win this matchup he’ll need to counterintuitively force Vucevic to drive to the rim.
Oddly, part of Vucevic’s hot start has seen him take the fewest shots of his career at the rim and he has been scorching hot from outside the paint. Cousins should force him to drive and give him no space to pull up and get into a shooting rhythm.
DeMarcus Cousins has had a tough start to the season and asking Christian Wood to matchup all game against Vucevic coming off of a sore knee, if he does play, is a recipe for disaster. Cousins needs to bully Vucevic in the paint and then force him to put the ball on the floor and attack.
Next: Matchup #2