SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — DeMarcus Cousins will debut on Friday at the center of the basketball universe, playing in front of a celebrity-sprinkled crowd in Los Angeles and a global television audience that still can’t believe he signed last summer with the back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors.

Cousins, a four-time all-star center, has missed nearly a year with a torn left Achilles tendon.

Without question, Cousins’ return represents one of the key mileposts of the 2018-19 season. Coach Steve Kerr plans to start him at center, giving Golden State a starting five composed entirely of all-stars from a season ago (the last team with such a luxury was the 1975-76 Boston Celtics).

If Cousins fits in and looks healthy, the Warriors are overwhelming favorites to claim their third straight title. If there are bumps or setbacks, the mercurial Cousins – known for his arguments with officials and occasional emotional outbursts – will become a lightning rod.

The occasion is a clear checkpoint for the Warriors, who have played their best basketball of the season over the last six games.

But they’re nowhere near where they think they can be.

It’s impossible to know exactly what Cousins will be able to provide. He’ll start on a minutes restriction, no doubt, and likely as the anchor of the Warriors’ second unit, which has been lackluster all year.

HEAT: Miami fined Dion Waiters an undisclosed amount for his expletive-laden comments about playing time earlier this week.

Waiters made the comments to reporters from two South Florida newspapers after Miami’s lopsided loss in Milwaukee on Tuesday night. The Heat were off Wednesday and announced the fine Thursday.

KNICKS: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the safety and security of players will always be paramount for the league after New York Knicks center Enes Kanter did not travel to London for his team’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Kanter said he feared he could be attacked or killed over his opposition to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he were to travel to London. Istanbul-based newspaper Daily Sabah reported that an arrest warrant was issued for Kanter by Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday.

ROCKETS: Center Clint Capela underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and will be out 4-to-6 weeks.


WIZARDS 101, KNICKS 100: Allonzo Trier was called for goaltending on a layup attempt by Thomas Bryant with 0.4 seconds remaining, giving Washington a win at London.

Bradley Beal scored 26 points and had nine rebounds for the Wizards, who outscored the Knicks 24-11 in the fourth quarter.

HORNETS 114, KINGS 95: Kemba Walker scored 23 points, surpassing 11,000 for his career, and Charlotte won at home.

76ERS 120, PACERS 96: Joel Embiid had 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists to lead visiting Philadelphia.

Jimmy Butler added 27 points, eight assists and five boards.

In a matchup of two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers improved to 2-1 in the four-game season series. The road team has won all three games.

RAPTORS 111, SUNS 109: Pascal Siakam scored the winning basket just before time expired and Toronto beat visiting Phoenix.