The likelihood of long-term harmony between Sacramento Kings All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl appeared poor almost from the start of the veteran coach's tenure last season.
The relationship hit another bump this past week, but the two have worked well enough together against the Utah Jazz to produce wins in each of this season's two meetings.
Cousins will try to help deal another blow to the Jazz's playoff hopes in his return from a one-game suspension Sunday.
The friction between Karl and Cousins is what reportedly led to rumors that the big man was set to be traded this past offseason. The Kings decided to keep him, and he has rewarded them with a career-best 27.4 points per game.
Cousins, however, also had a reported run-in with his coach in the locker room after a 106-88 loss to San Antonio on Nov. 9. His disagreement with Karl in a 120-111 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday was out in the open, on the Kings' bench.
That brought a response the next day from general manager Vlade Divac, who announced the suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team."
''When you lose games, frustration evolves in many ways. Sometimes it crosses a line," said Karl, who was rumored to be on the way out of Sacramento last month. "Hopefully we can communicate, and he gets to a good place."
Without Cousins, who was averaging 33.3 points in his last three contests, Sacramento (25-39) lost for the eighth time in nine games Friday. A 107-100 defeat to Orlando was also the team's season-high fifth straight at home.
"I don't think it's doomsday," Karl said. "I think it's still a team that has an ability to play better basketball, maybe a more complete 48 minutes."
Kosta Koufos tried to make up for Cousins' absence with a season-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting off the bench. Rudy Gay, meanwhile, had one of his worst games of the season, missing seven of nine shots from the field and committing six turnovers.
Gay has keyed Sacramento winning both matchups with Utah. He had 24 points, including the go-ahead shot with 0.9 seconds left, in a 103-101 victory Jan. 14 and scored 23 on 10-of-13 shooting in a 114-106 home win Dec. 8.
Cousins had 36 points and 17 rebounds in the last meeting, helping put the Kings in position to sweep the season series for the first time since 2001-02.
The Jazz (30-35) have lost 10 of 14 overall to fall from seventh to ninth in the Western Conference but topped Washington 114-93 on Friday.
Shelvin Mack scored a career-high 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting, and Utah connected at 56.7 percent for its second-best showing this season. Mack had shot 27.7 percent in the previous five games and averaged 10.2 points in his first 10 after being acquired from Atlanta on Feb. 18.
"I felt like I was a little more aggressive. I have kind of been in a shooting slump, but the best way to get out of it is to keep shooting," Mack said. "It's the NBA. To make it in this league, you have to keep grinding."