How you like him now?
Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder's championship hopes are riding on the health of his hip, and now that his defense is desperately needed to contend with the best center left in these playoffs, how do you like Kendrick Perkins?
Do you now appreciate what “Big Perk” brings?
The faction of fans that have unabashedly bashed Perkins from the moment he arrived — writing him off as out of shape and overpaid — should.
This is when Perkins reveals his true value.
We're seeing as much now that a lingering injury to the Thunder's starting center continues to send a scare throughout the whole state as there still is no timetable for when Perkins will be on the mend.
Three days after sustaining a right hip muscle strain, Perkins still was unable to practice Tuesday. He remains day-to-day and will continue receiving treatment in hopes of returning to the Thunder's lineup in time for the start of the team's second-round series.
“In a couple of days we'll see where he is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's sore. But he just has to go through the process of getting better.”
Perkins was not made available to the media Tuesday, but he was spotted inside the team's training facility near the conclusion of practice, still walking gingerly. Teammates, though, said Perkins is in good spirits and progressing.
“He's doing very well. He looks good,” said Kevin Durant. “We have some of the best trainers in the league, and those guys are going to do a great job with Perk. Luckily, we got five or six days to kind of rest him a little bit and get ready for the next series.”
The earliest Game 1 of the Thunder's Western Conference semifinal series can start is Saturday. Durant said he thinks Perkins will be ready.
“I'm really expecting Perk to be in the lineup,” Durant said. “But that's just me. I really don't know his status or what's going on. That's just me being positive.”
Oklahoma City likely will face the Los Angeles Lakers in round two. L.A. owned a 3-1 series lead over Denver going into Game 5 on Tuesday night. The outcome was unknown at press time. But only eight teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 hole to win a series.
Assuming the Lakers advance, the Thunder's tallest task will be slowing down center Andrew Bynum, who strung together the best year of his career this season. Depending on Perkins' availability, there's a chance the Thunder will have to deal with Bynum without its low-post defensive anchor.
To understand how much of a difference-maker Perkins can be, look no further than the last regular-season matchup between the Thunder and Lakers. In that contest, Perkins was so good he took Bynum completely out of the game — literally. Lakers coach Mike Brown benched an ineffective Bynum in favor of Jordan Hill. Bynum scored just 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting with eight rebounds and five blocks in 29 minutes. Bynum scored just six points on 3-of-8 shooting against Perkins.
But if Perkins must miss a game or two, Oklahoma City still should be able to compete with confidence. Two years ago, long before Perkins was anywhere near OKC's radar, the Thunder had marginal success against the Lakers in the postseason. Oklahoma City eventually lost the series 4-2 but came within a Pau Gasol tip-in of forcing a Game 7.
Bynum averaged only 12 points, nine rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 30 minutes per game.
Could that history of success come in handy again?
“That's a good question,” Brooks said. “I haven't thought of it that way. We're so different and they're a different team. We feel like we can have success against whoever we play as long as we continue to work and do the things that make us successful offensively and defensively.”
The good news for the Thunder is, as a team, it has gotten bigger and better, stronger and faster since that Lakers series.
But so has Bynum.
After averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in the regular season, both career-highs, Bynum has averaged 18.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.25 blocks in 38 minutes through four playoff games.
The Thunder can lean on reserve centers Nazr Mohammed and Cole Aldrich a bit against Bynum, and power forwards Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison each can play center as well.
“We have guys that are capable of playing good minutes for us and putting us in good positions to continue to have success,” Brooks said. “We're not going down that road yet until we have to. But they worked all year to be ready and if it happens they will be ready. We'll find ways to continue to have success.”