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.