Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, Magic center Dwight Howard an opening-day jewel of a matchup

by Darnell Mayberry Published: December 24, 2011
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Ten months ago, Orlando center Dwight Howard gushed at how good Kendrick Perkins would make the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ten days ago, Perkins unabashedly branded Howard as the toughest player he's ever had to cover.

That alone should tell you all you need to know about the admiration both big men have for one another. Perkins, remember, is the same player who despises his opponents. The same player who arrived in Oklahoma City and almost immediately announced he dislikes “everything” about L.A. Lakers forward Pau Gasol.

But when Perkins and Howard hook up Sunday night in the season opener for both teams, fans will be treated to a matchup that has become the NBA's best big man rivalry. Unlike most, this one has been built out of reverence rather than repugnance.

“We got a respect for each other,” Perkins said. “But at the same time, we always go out there and compete hard and play physical. Sometimes we come out with a busted lip every now and then or some bruised ribs. But that's just part of it.”

For two-plus seasons, the Thunder's biggest flaw was clear for all to see. Oklahoma City didn't have a big body to man the middle. Perkins became the surprising solution to that problem. At last year's deadline, the Thunder acquired Perkins in a blockbuster deal that sent Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a 2012 first-round draft pick to Boston.

Within hours, Howard had echoed so many others who extolled OKC's end of the deal.

“They were already a tough team,” Howard said in February. “And they just got better … They're up their now. They have a legitimate chance of winning a title.”

Perkins could be the final piece to Oklahoma City's puzzle.

After being hampered by knee injuries for much of the past 1 1/2 years, Perkins is finally healthy. He lost 31 pounds over the offseason and has returned in perhaps the best shape of his career. He's proudly sporting a leaner, more chiseled physique, and he's confidently showing things on the court — two-handed reverse dunks, taking his man off the dribble and staying with smaller players on switches — that last year appeared to have deteriorated from his game.

Howard, who is viewed as the NBA's best center, now becomes Perkins' first real test.

“I'd rather start off on him and get it out the way early,” Perkins said with only a hint of humor.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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Thunder vs. Magic

When: 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena.

TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722), ESPN (Cox 29, HD 720).

Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM.

Three things to know

* The Thunder split the two-game series with Orlando last season. Each team won on its home floor. Orlando won the last meeting with the Thunder short-handed following trades that brought Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed to Oklahoma City.

* The Thunder went 22-8 against Eastern Conference teams last season.

* This is the Thunder's second consecutive season hosting a game on Christmas. The Thunder defeated Denver, 114-106, at home last season.

Projected starters

Thunder

Pos.; Player; Ht.; Pts.; Reb.; Ast.

G; Russell Westbrook; 6-3;21.9;4.6;8.2

G; Thabo Sefolosha; 6-7;5.1;4.4;1.4

F; Kevin Durant; 6-9;27.7;6.8;2.7

F; Serge Ibaka; 6-10;9.9;7.6;0.3

C; Kendrick Perkins; 6-10;5.1;7.9;0.9

Magic

Pos.; Player; Ht.; Pts.; Reb.; Ast.

G; Jameer Nelson; 6-0;13.1;3.0;6.0

G; Jason Richardson; 6-6;15.6;4.1;1.8

F; Hedo Turkoglu; 6-10;10.8;4.4;4.2

F; Ryan Anderson; 6-10;10.6;5.5;0.8

C; Dwight Howard; 6-11;22.9;14.1;1.4

* Stats are from the 2010-11 regular season.

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