Thunder center Kendrick Perkins lost 31 pounds thanks to a strenuous off-season workout regimen. For this, his reward potentially could be the nightmare of attempting to defend Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki.
During Saturday morning's shoot-around in preparation for Game 1 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Perkins was asked how much better the slimmed-down version of himself would be able to handle Perkins.
"We'll see," Perkins said. "I'm just going to go out there and try to make it hard for him."
That moment came nearly 12 hours later during OKC's pulsating 99-98 victory over the Mavericks.
Perkins occasionally switched off on Nowitzki throughout the game, but the 7-foot, 245-pound German was Perkins' sole responsibility in the final 2:17 with the Thunder trailing 94-89.
In the ensuing possessions, Nowitzki missed a 3-pointer; committed back-to-back turnovers; and wound up drawing a foul that gave Dallas a 98-97 lead with 9.0 seconds left.
Nowitzki didn't touch the ball on the Mavs' final possession with 1.5 seconds left when Shawn Marion failed to get off a shot after Kevin Durant's 15-foot game-winner.
The difference-maker was the first turnover, which Perkins deflected from behind and wound up in the hands of James Harden, who fed Durant for a dunk to tie the score at 94.
A year ago, Nowitzki would have easily abused an ailing Perkins, who was recovering from injuries to both knees, but not this season.
En route to beating the Mavs three out of four times during the regular season, Perkins occasionally took turns defending Nowitzki, so Perkins defending Nowitzki in Game 1 came as no surprise to the Mavericks.
"They always do that," Dallas reserve center Ian Mahinmi said. "Every time we play OKC this year, when it comes down to the last two minutes, Perk is on Dirk, so we're used to that. We're going to take advantage of that. Personally, I think Dirk is quicker than Kendrick Perkins and we're going to try to take advantage of that."
Prior to be hounded by Perkins, Serge Ibaka played commendably as OKC's primary defender on Nowitzki. Nick Collison also came in on relief.
Asked what it's like to be defended by Ibaka and Perkins, Nowitzki said: "They're both long. One time I drove middle on Perk and I think Harden came over and got his hand on the ball. The other time I came off a down screen. I read the play wrong. I thought that Perk might have trailed me so I tried to go middle but he shot the gap so he was right there when I came and poked the ball out."
Nowitzki still finished with 25 points, shooting 8 for 18 from the field and 9 for 10 at the free-throw line.
The primary problem in the fourth quarter, Nowitzki said, was the Mavs' inability to get the ball to sixth man Jason Terry, who shot 8 for 10 from the field, 4 for 5 from 3-point range and finished with 20 points, but had just one field-goal attempt in the fourth period.
"So (we've) got the keep attacking and we've got to find a way to get Jet (Jason Terry) the ball," Nowitzki said. "He had the hot hand and we couldn't even get him the ball in the fourth quarter. They denied him everywhere and we've got to counter that."