The Kings on Monday night had just had one of those quarters that have doomed them all season.

After a good start, Sacramento looked out of sorts defensively in the second quarter. Its lead and momentum were gone.

That’s when DeMarcus Cousins took over.

Cousins bullied his way through New Orleans’ front line, and rookie Ray McCallum came through in the fourth quarter to help the Kings dispatch the Pelicans 102-97at Smoothie King Center.

Cousins scored 16 of his game-high 35 points in the third quarter, making all seven of his field-goal attempts to help the Kings take a lead they wouldn’t surrender.

Smoothie King Center was the site of the All-Star Game, and Cousins was not selected to play. But after Cousins had his way against the Pelicans, also grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds, Kings coach Michael Malone called Cousins the “best big man” in the NBA and discussed his evolution as a leader.

“What I’ve seen a lot more recently is his will to win, his refuse-to-lose attitude,” Malone said. “He’s getting on guys the right way, like a leader should, and for you to get on somebody, you have to demand it from yourself before you demand it from anybody else. I just love how he’s been playing recently. Cuz is obviously going to get better, and I can’t wait to be here when he is finally named an All-Star.”

When Cousins signed his four-year, $62 million extension before the season, team ownership talked of how the Kings were his team to lead.

That was a lot to put on a fourth-year player.

“I’m the first one to admit I’m still learning in this league myself,” Cousins said. “I’ve still got a lot of learning to do and a lot of growing as being a leader of this team so, I mean, with each game I’m trying to get better myself.”