MEMPHIS — Kendrick Perkins knew better than to make the next game a big deal.
So as he stood in the Minnesota Timerbwolves visitor's locker room following Monday night's win, he had to stop himself from saying too much when his attention turned to the Memphis Grizzlies.
But as soon as the topic arose, Perkins' expression and tone both grew more intense.
“I'm really looking forward to this game on Wednesday to be honest,” Perkins said.
Perkins let the word “list” slip before quickly correcting himself, choosing instead to settle on safer word that perhaps wouldn't expose his true emotions.
“I got it on my mind to try to go in and try to produce the best way I can,” Perkins said. “Last year in the playoffs, I was hurt going against them. So I just want to see what it's like for me to be healthy and go in there and do what I got to do.”
The entire Thunder roster can take a page out of Perkins' book as Oklahoma City faces Memphis for the first time since last season's electrifying seven-game semifinal.
The Thunder eliminated the Grizzlies in that series and advanced to the Western Conference Finals, prompting prognosticators to pick OKC as the West favorite this season. But the Thunder barely got past those seven grueling games against the Grizzlies. Once it did, the matchup became one of the Thunder's biggest teaching moments.
In between a first-round series with the freewheeling and fast-breaking Denver Nuggets, and a conference final against the more tactical Dallas Mavericks, the Thunder was forced to play a big and powerful Grizzlies team built on bullying opponents on the inside. The mix became an invaluable experience for a young Thunder team still learning how to adapt and succeed against all different styles.
“Just the physicality of the series is what I remember most,” said forward Nick Collison of the Grizzlies series. “I think it was good for us. We really hadn't had to do that in a series before. I think we grew up some in that series.”
For the Thunder, Wednesday's game is only Game 3 of a 66-game season. So by no means can this showdown be considered a rematch. Last year's series was too riveting, too emotional and too intense. But in many ways, this game can be a barometer.
Both teams return rosters from last season that remained largely intact. The Thunder waived Nate Robinson. Memphis lost Shane Battier in free agency to Miami and traded reserve point guard Greviez Vasquez to New Orleans. The Grizzlies also lost Darrell Arthur for the season to an Achilles injury.
Just about everything and everyone is the same, which could test what the Thunder has learned.
Against Gasol, Perkins will now look to duplicate the same dominant defense he displayed in the Thunder's opening games against Orlando and center Dwight Howard and Minnesota and center Darko Milicic. Last year, Gasol had a monster playoff series against the Thunder, averaging 15.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.7 blocks while shooting 49.3 percent.
Collison and Serge Ibaka, meanwhile, will get another crack at Zach Randolph, who averaged 22.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and one block on 40.6 percent shooting against OKC.
“They're going to try to try to get the ball inside every possession with their two bigs,” Collison said. “Zach and Gasol are a load down there. You have to really be able to keep them off the backboard and fight with them on every possession.”
Although Battier signed with the Heat, Kevin Durant must again contend with Tony Allen, who gave the scoring leader fits last year. The Grizzlies also have forward Rudy Gay back after he missed the regular season's final 25 games and the entire postseason with a shoulder injury. Gay, who scored 19 points with 10 rebounds in the Grizzlies opener at San Antonio on Monday, will test Durant's defensive improvement as well.
The Russell Westbrook-Mike Conley matchup last year was not the mismatch most thought it would have been, as Conley ran his team effectively and controlled the pace while making few mistakes. And of course, there's the bench matchup to keep an eye on. It will be highlighted by James Harden and O.J. Mayo going head to head.
“It's going to be a battle,” Collison said. “We got a ton of respect for that team.”
Thunder at Grizzlies
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: FedExForum, Memphis
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722).
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* The Thunder is coming off a 104-100 win at Minnesota on Monday night.
* Memphis forward Rudy Gay has returned to the Grizzlies' lineup after missing the final 25 games and the entire postseason last year with a separated shoulder.
* Thunder forward Kevin Durant averaged 30.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and three assists against the Grizzlies last season. Durant has scored at least 30 plus points in both of the Thunder's first two games this year.
Pos.; Player; Ht.; Pts.; Reb.; Ast.
G; Russell Westbrook; 6-3; 21.0; 6.5; 6.0
G; Thabo Sefolosha; 6-7; 6.0; 4.0; 0.0
F; Kevin Durant; 6-9; 31.5; 5.0; 4.5
F; Serge Ibaka; 6-10; 3.0; 6.0; 0.5
C; Kendrick Perkins; 6-10; 5.0; 6.0; 1.0
Pos.; Player; Ht.; Pts.; Reb.; Ast.
G; Mike Conley; 6-1; 11.0; 3.0; 7.0
G; Tony Allen; 6-4; 2.0; 4.0; 0.0
F; Rudy Gay; 6-8; 19.0; 10.0; 2.0
F; Zach Randolph; 6-9; 10.0; 6.0; 1.0
C; Marc Gasol; 7-1; 13.0; 6.0; 3.0