DeMarcus Cousins' return wasn't enough to stop the Sacramento Kings' recent struggles or their season-long defensive issues.
The Brooklyn Nets could provide a remedy for both when the slumping Kings begin an important eastern trip Friday night.
A season-high five-game winning streak vaulted Sacramento (21-28) into eighth place in the Western Conference on Jan. 24, but it's since dropped to 10th due to a 1-5 stretch and surges from Portland and Utah. Three of those losses occurred on the road, increasing the significance of a four-game trek where the Kings will face the East's two worst teams in Brooklyn (12-38) and Philadelphia.
Neither Cousins nor the NBA's third-highest scoring offense can be blamed for the struggles, which can be pointed to a defense that's surrendering 114.5 points per game over those six contests. That's been an ongoing problem for a team that's allowed 108.1 points per game and 510 3-pointers, both last in the league.
Sacramento's defensive woes proved costly again Wednesday, when Chicago went 11 of 21 from 3-point range to record a 107-102 win without All-Star Jimmy Butler. Cousins returned from a one-game absence due to a sprained left ankle to amass 30 points and 11 rebounds, but the Kings couldn't overcome an early 13-point deficit.
''I've never had this many games on the home court come out flat,'' coach George Karl said. ''You run out of energy. It's not a good formula for success.''
Cousins, averaging a league-high 31.4 points and 12.8 rebounds in 16 games since Jan. 2, could be primed for another big night against the Nets, among his favorite opponents. The All-Star center is averaging 30.0 points and 15.0 rebounds over the last four meetings and had 40 and 13 in a 111-109 home win Nov. 13, supporting Rajon Rondo's 23-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple-double.
Brooklyn has gone farther backward since that matchup, having lost five straight and 10 of 11 following Wednesday's 114-100 defeat to Indiana for its 16th loss in its last 18 at Barclays Center.
The Nets' glaring lack of depth was even more evident against the Pacers, who finished with a 58-16 advantage in bench points.
"It's the same old story. We've got to find some other guys to join the fray," said interim coach Tony Brown, who fell to 2-11 since replacing the fired Lionel Hollins on Jan. 10. "Our starters played relatively big minutes but we just didn't have any rhythm coming off our bench."
The Kings have received considerably better production from their reserves, as Darren Collison is averaging 17.7 points while shooting 55.6 percent over a three-game stretch and Omri Casspi ranks among the league leaders with a 44.0 percentage on 3s.
Sacramento also figures to have an advantage inside, as it's second in the NBA in points in the paint (48.9 per game) and Brooklyn is allowing an average of 49.2 during Brown's tenure.
The Nets have had the greater recent success in the series, however, having won six of eight meetings. The Kings are 0-3 at Barclays Center and have lost six straight on the road to the Nets since a 106-101 victory in New Jersey on Dec. 18, 2007.