The Heat is coming to town for a Thursday night showdown, and you know what means. Matchups extraordinaire.
Durant vs. LeBron. Westbrook (light a candle) vs. D-Wade. Serge Ibaka vs. Chris Bosh. Kendrick Perkins against no one.
That's the fundamental problem with Perk and Miami. It's 100 percent uncomplicated. The Heat has no one for Perkins to guard.
Which is why Scotty Brooks knows what he has to do. He has to sit Perkins against Miami. Start Perk if need be, for ceremonial sake, but get him out quickly, never to return, at least until the Heat decides to play a more traditional lineup.
It's the last thing Brooks wants to do. Perk is a prideful player and the Thunder is an unwavering organization. The Thunder stands by its cornerstones, and in case you haven't been paying attention, Perkins is a cornerstone.
His contract ($35 million, four years, up in summer 2015) says so.
His influence says so. The Thunder became an elite NBA team the day Perkins' scowl arrived from Boston. Overnight, the Thunder developed an attitude. Overnight, the Baby Boomers got meaner. Overnight, the Thunder started playing defense.
His play says so. Perk still brings it on defense. The Thunder has played more than half the season without Westbrook, which means Reggie Jackson has been chasing around point guards, usually from behind, and yet the Thunder still ranks third in NBA defensive efficiency, at 99.3 points per 100 possessions.
That's not all Gran Torino's doing. Thabo Sefolosha remains a perimeter stopper, and Ibaka remains the league's best shot blocker, but Perkins still can man up on the game's best low-post scorers and still can guard the pick-and-roll with the best of them. That's how games are won.
Just not against Miami. The Heat has disdained a traditional lineup for three years now. Miami often plays without a center or anyone close to the post.
So to play Perkins against Miami, Brooks has to assign him to Bosh, and Ibaka to Shane Battier or somebody else trolling the 3-point line. Putting Ibaka 23 feet from the basket is like playing Ozzie Smith in left field. And it's not like Perk is around the basket, either, since Bosh likes to float all over.
The Thunder's defense is compromised, Perkins' value is diminished and 99 percent of his worth comes from defense.
Which is why Foreman Scotty finally benched Perkins. He didn't want to do it, but he knew he had to do it sometime. Jan. 29 down in Miami finally was the time.
Brooks replaced Perkins 4½ minutes into the game against the Heat, and the Thunder blossomed like Muskogee azaleas.
A 15-2 deficit was wiped out by mid-second quarter, and when Perkins didn't start the second half, the rout was on. The Thunder lead eventually reached 25, before OKC settled for a 112-95 victory that ended a six-game series losing streak.
That beatdown didn't exorcise the demons of the 2012 NBA Finals defeat. Didn't mean the Heat cowers in the corner, fearing the Thunder in June.
But it did prove that Brooks will pull out all the stops to beat Miami. Sitting Perkins for 43½ minutes is the epitome of desperate measures. At least in Thunderland.
Benching Perkins for such a stretch is not easy. The most difficult part of NBA coaching is not the strategy. Or the motivating.
The most difficult part of NBA coaching is dealing with the personalities. Keeping 10, 12, 15 guys rowing in the same direction.
Even a good ship lollipop like the Thunder is not easy. Some of these guys have razor-wire edges. Keeping the volatile Westbrook in line is a full-time job. Telling Perkins he's not needed against the NBA's two-time champion is delicate stuff.
But it's true.
Perk hasn't always stunk against Miami. In March 2012, 11 weeks before the NBA Finals, Perkins had 16 points and six rebounds in a 103-87 Thunder rout of the Heat. And Miami played a small lineup much of that game.
In the 2012 Finals, twice Perk was on the plus side — the Thunder outscored Miami with Perkins on the court in both Game 3 and Game 4.
But increasingly, the Heat blisters offensively challenged centers. A skilled big man puts Miami at its most vulnerable. Conversely, a defensive plugger in the middle doesn't bother the Heat, because there's nothing to plug.
The idea that Gran Torino is valuable in a small number of games is silly. His worth shows at least 60 times a year. The Thunder will be hard-pressed to find a Western Conference playoff opponent that doesn't require elite post defense.
Let's see. San Antonio. Portland. The Clippers. Houston. Memphis. Minnesota. The Thunder has to have Perkins against all of them.
Maybe not against Golden State, Dallas or Phoenix. None of which seemed destined for survive past the first round anyway.
The Thunder needs Perkins or someone like him to win the NBA championship.
Just not against Miami. Scotty Brooks knows what he has to do.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.