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New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins (0) celebrates a three point shot during the second half of an NBA game against Golden State Warriors at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, La., Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. The Golden State Warriors won 128-120.

Advocate staff photo by MAX BECHERER

Alvin Gentry downplayed it Tuesday night when asked about DeMarcus Cousins' return to Sacramento.

"It's another game," Gentry said. "We are playing Sacramento, no different than playing any other game we play."

Nah, Alvin. This isn't just another game.

There's a reason TNT chose to broadcast a game between two teams that didn't make the playoffs last season.

This is Boogie's homecoming, his return to play the team where he starred for before the blockbuster trade that ended the seven-year soap opera in Sacramento.

It'll be Cousins' first game in Sacramento since Feb. 15, when he scored 13 points and four rebounds against the Golden State Warriors in his final game as a King.

He was traded four days later, just as the NBA All-Star Game was ending and just as his mother, Monique, was returning to her hotel room in downtown New Orleans.

"My phone started blowing up with text messages, and everybody was walking up to me and asking me if I was all right," Ms. Cousins recalled.

She says her son is in a better place now.

"He's less stressed and just more of himself now," she says.

But it's a game Cousins surely circled on his calendar once the NBA schedule was released in August.

He was a polarizing figure in Sacramento, one whose talents on the court were often overshadowed by his emotional outbursts with teammates, coaches, officials and even media.

So even Cousins isn't sure what type of reception he'll receive.

"I'm excited to play in front of the fans and see their reaction," Cousins said in an interview with ESPN this week.

The side of DeMarcus Cousins you may not know

Sacramento is still near and dear to Cousins, though.

Always will be.

That's why he returned to Sacramento during the summer to hold his DeMarcus Cousins Elite Skills Camp, hosting more than 200 children.

That's why he was emotional on his final day in Sacramento before heading to New Orleans. It hurt more that team management told him earlier that he wouldn't be traded.

"My love for this city will never change," Cousins said at the time. "Even though I'm gone, it will still be the same. I'm still looking out for these kids. Every family in this city matters to me."

But as much as Cousins loves the city, he wishes he would have left sooner.

He said in the ESPN interview that he had the chance to leave when George Karl became the coach. Karl was Cousins' fifth of six head coaches in Sacramento.

"My representatives told me I shouldn't stay, but being stubborn and loyal, I wanted to make things work," Cousins said.

Loyalty is important to Cousins.

It's the word written on the merchandise sold on Cousins' website.

"DeMarcus is very loyal to a fault," said Otis Hughley, who coached Cousins in high school and was an assistant for the Kings during his rookie year. "That's why it hurt him so bad when he left Sacramento. Sacramento loved that dude. He would be an enigma to most people, but to people who know him, he's not."

Cousins returns to Sacramento as the NBA's second-leading scorer (31 points per game) and tied for fifth in rebounds (12). He scored 39 points in Tuesday night's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the fourth-highest scoring output in this young NBA season.

He hasn't said it, but surely he'd like to have a similar outing Thursday night, coupled with a win.

"As far as it being a revenge game, hey, I'm past it," Cousins told ESPN. "I'm in a good place. I'm happy where I am. We've got a chance to win; we're playing for something. I'm good."

But trust me on this, coach Gentry.

For Cousins, this isn't just another game.

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.