SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) There's little doubt the Sacramento Kings are a much different team with DeMarcus Cousins in the lineup.
The All-Star forward was certainly a difference-maker in his return Monday night. He scored 16 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter of a 112-98 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Cousins missed the previous three games due to a lower back strain. The Kings are 1-7 without him this season and 6-5 with the big man in the lineup. They are 12-40 when he's been absent since Cousins joined the club in 2010.
''I hate being out and I hate having to sit to watch my team going to battle without me when you know you could be in helping them,'' said Cousins, who had nine rebounds and six assists. ''It's a terrible feeling to be sitting out. But you have to put those games behind you and move forward.''
Rajon Rondo had 21 points and Rudy Gay added 20 for the Kings, who had dropped six straight to Dallas and 21 of the previous 23 meetings. Sacramento outscored the Mavericks 22-13 in the third period to take the lead for good.
Darren Collison added 15 points and Omri Casspi 10 for the Kings.
Chandler Parsons had 14 points for the Mavericks. Dirk Nowitzki scored 13 and Zaza Pachulia had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Devin Harris added 11 points.
Dallas, which has dropped four of five, missed 28 of 37 attempts from 3-point range and scored 40 points in the second half.
Cousins shot 5 of 9 from the field in the fourth and hit all six free throws to help Sacramento build on its third-quarter lead. Gay converted a three-point play to give the Kings a 97-86 advantage.
''Cousins had a monster game. He's a force in there and he's very difficult to deal with,'' Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. ''We allowed him to get going too much and their whole team played great. It ended up being a very tough night for us.''
Sacramento got more aggressive defensively in the third quarter and it paid off. Gay scored seven early points and the Kings held Dallas to 22.7 shooting and 13 points in taking a 76-71 lead into the fourth.
''To be a highly efficient offensive team, we've got to play good defense,'' Kings coach George Karl said. ''I think we are finally realizing that.''
Rondo's stay in Dallas last season was a rough one. The Mavericks were 26-20 when he played and 24-12 without him. He feuded with Carlisle about issues such as play-calling responsibilities and pace.
Rondo was suspended for a game during the regular season and left the team after Game 2 of a first-round playoff series with Houston. The Mavs announced that Rondo had a back injury, but reports later indicated his departure was a mutual decision.
With the Kings, Rondo has revived his career and is putting up numbers similar to his years with the Boston Celtics. He has four triple-doubles this season and came into the game leading the NBA with 11 assists per game.
Rondo picked up his 200th assist this season in the opening quarter and finished with five for the game.
''He's playing desperately and playing with a chip on his shoulder,'' Dallas guard Wesley Matthews said. ''After what happened at the end of last season, he's playing in control and playing well. They put some nice pieces around him.''
Mavericks: Nowitzki made a step-back jumper late in the second quarter to become the 13th player in NBA history with 10,000 field goals. ... Pachulia fared well against Cousins in the first half, when he had 11 points and seven rebounds. ... Reserve point guard J.J. Barea missed his second straight game with an ankle sprain. ... Rondo was fouled intentionally seven times and missed seven of 14 attempts. ... In a rare first-half appearance, Seth Curry made two 3-pointers and had eight points. ... Kosta Koufos was fouled intentionally twice in the third quarter and missed all four free throws. ... Cousins made all 10 free throws and has 1,798 in his Kings career, moving past Kevin Martin for second place in the Sacramento era.
Mavericks: At Portland on Tuesday.
Kings: Against Boston on Thursday in Mexico City.