DALLAS — Kendrick Perkins isn't ready to say he's all the way back.
It's not his style. Not this soon.
But even for a guy who admittedly is his own worst critic, Perkins was pleased with his performance in the Thunder's 106-92 win over Dallas in the preseason opener for both teams Sunday night.
He had no choice but to be after how he performed under the bright lights for the first time and in the backyard of the defending NBA champions.
“What I liked best is I just anchored the defense. I think I did a great job of that,” Perkins said.
Even in an exhibition game, Perkins played with a passion that he passed on to his teammates. More importantly at this point, Perkins showed his legs are again lively and the spring has returned to his step.
Nothing illustrated that significant reality more than the second-half sequence that saw Perkins get forced into switching onto Mavs forward Shawn Marion. Perkins ultimately was successful in stopping Marion. The big man moved his feet laterally and stayed in front of the much quicker Marion long enough to make him settle for a contested runner.
Of course, there were other eye-popping plays that confirmed this year's version of Perk is better than before. There was the rhythmic jump hook he dropped over Lamar Odom for his lone field goal on one possession, as well as the aggressive drive with which he attacked Marion on another. There were the game-high eight rebounds Perkins corralled, including seven on the defensive end, and the game-high two blocked shots he tallied while protecting the paint.
“He looked agile,” said Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 21 points. “He was dribbling the ball, taking his man off the dribble, making the right passes and rebounding. He looked great.”
As if he didn't supply enough evidence, Perk would rest his case at a place he's looked the least comfortable — the foul line. Perkins, a career 60-percent foul shooter who netted a career-low 55.6 percent last season, made six of eight Sunday. On two trips, he swished consecutive free throws.
“It felt good just to be out there playing and getting my rhythm back,” Perkins said. “I'm not too much worried about offense. I know it's going to come. I'm just trying to run up and down, set picks and get back into the flow of things and go from there.”
Led by Perkins on the defensive end, the Thunder held Dallas to 38 percent shooting and fewer than 25 points in three quarters. Oklahoma City led by as many as 23 and walked out of Dallas proudest about displaying the consistent defensive effort Thunder coach Scott Brooks has preached since the start of camp. The Thunder held the Mavs to 40 percent shooting in the first half and 35.9 percent in the second.
“That's one thing we're going to focus on this year is being a better first half defensive team. And I think we did a great job of that,” Perkins said.
There were breakdowns at times in the Thunder's defense, but clearly the effort was there as players communicated throughout the night and rotated to help each other when needed. Nick Collison also was a difference maker, picking up where he left off last season by drawing three charges.
The biggest cause for concern was a heap of turnovers. Oklahoma City had eight in the first 11 1/2 minutes and finished with 25 leading to 33 Mavs points. It was a direct result of Thunder players forcing passes and perhaps over-passing as they sought to share the ball more per Brooks' mandate.
“That's something that we have to work on and we will correct,” Brooks said. “But like I told the guys, our effort was good and our thoughts were in the right place…Overall, I'm happy and pleased with what we did tonight.”