SACRAMENTO -- The future of the NBA center position is in good hands. DeMarcus Cousins, arguably the best big man in the game, showed up big Monday in the Sacramento Kings' 102-100 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
But so did rookie Joel Embiid.
The two giants clashed all the way until the final whistle when Cousins swatted Embiid's 3-point attempt that would have given the Sixers a one-point lead with 3.8 seconds remaining.
It was a good, clean fight and Cousins came away impressed.
"I like that kid a lot - I don't give a lot of people props, but I like that kid a lot," Cousins told CSN's Kayte Christensen following the game. "I think he's got a great chance of being the best big in the league...after I retire..."
Cousins struggled to find a rhythm early against a young 76ers frontline, but in the final 6:10 of the fourth quarter, he posted 12 of his game-high 30 points. But Embiid and his gritty teammates refused to go away.
"He's terrific," Joerger said of the Sixers prized rookie. "It should be illegal to be that big and that skilled at the same time. He's got a terrific future."
Embiid finished the night with a team-high 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting. He added eight rebounds, two steals and a pair of blocks, although he turned the ball over eight times in 29 minutes of action.
"That kid's special - all jokes aside, I really think he's a good player, we were joking a little bit," Cousins said. "This is my first time ever interacting with Embiid, and also feeling how physical he is as well."
Early in the game, Cousins swatted Embiid on the backside after schooling the rookie in the post. Embiid returned the slap, which of course Cousins returned again. The two giants continued to smack each other all way to the other end of the court in a comical, yet telling moment of what is to come over the next few seasons between the two.
"I appreciate them just letting us play," Cousins said with a smile. "That was a good matchup. That was a fun battle. It was good."
To keep Cousins fresh, coach Dave Joerger used veteran Kosta Koufos and second-year big Willie Cauley-Stein to guard the the 7-foot Embiid. Koufos picked up five personal fouls in just 15 minutes of action and Cauley-Stein needed just 12 minutes to record three personals.
Down the stretch it was Cousins vs. Embiid in an epic battle of bigs. The Kings ran the ball through Cousins on nearly every possession late and he stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
"I thought I did pretty good when I was guarding him," Embiid told reporters after the game. "He's good obviously, so he scored the ball when it mattered. But I thought it went pretty good overall."
Embiid wasn't overpowered, but it was Cousins that led his team to victory. This is the first of many battles between these two big men. Embiid is only going to get better as he learns the game and improves his overall fitness level.
With the win, the Kings improved to 14-17 on the season as they head to Portland to face the reeling Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. The Blazers lost their sixth straight Monday night and have fallen back to the tenth spot in the race for the Western Conference playoff race, trailing Sacramento by a full two games.