OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder topped the Magic 97-89 behind 30 points from Kevin Durant. But that wasn't the story. It was the way the Thunder handled Orlando on both ends, specifically Dwight Howard.
THE THEORY: The new Kendrick Perkins makes Oklahoma City a title contender
THE PROOF: Dwight Howard: 4-12 from the field, 11 points
Perkins shed 32 pounds in the offseason and re-discovered a bit of his old athleticism and agility. But the question for Oklahoma City was if the new Perkins was going to make that much of a difference. Would a quicker, lighter, more agile Perk mean the Thunder could dominate the paint.
OKC's opener against Orlando came down to an essential, simple matchup: Perkins got the better of Dwight Howard. Howard was just 4-12 for 11 points, but here's the kicker: Howard shot just eight free throws.
That's one major improvement from Perkins because of his new body: He doesn't foul. He can move his feet much better and doesn't have to use his hands to keep someone in front of him. It's a big reason Howard only took eight free throws. Perk was quick enough to stop Howard off the dribble.
When Howard can’t roll inside, it completely limits the Magic’s inside-out game, which is what they’re basically designed to do. Orlando started the game 8-9 but went through a 5-30 stretch after that and shot just 37 percent for the game.
“I thought Perk was really good staying between Dwight and the basket,” Scott Brooks said. “That’s what you want to do.”
Perkins basically played Howard by always keep a body pressed against him, staying home and giving him a 12-foot jumper if he wanted it. Howard tried it three times, hitting one. After that, Howard never went near the paint without Perkins' barrel chest right up against him. That’s how he's going to play everyone and that’s why he can change the Thunder defensively almost all on his own.
At one point after Perkins was a little hot after getting tangled with Howard. Ref Bill Kennedy told Perk to chill and then even went over and told Brooks to calm Perkins down. Brooks didn’t look at all interested in that.
“We like him a little angry,” Brooks said. “We like him mad at his opponent.”
Perkins did pick up his first technical of the season though by scuffling with Howard later. That’s No. 1 for Perk, and because of the shortened season, he’s got 12 more until he faces a suspension.
“He told me he’d slow it down when he got to nine,” Brooks said. “I’m trying to talk him into six.”
While Perkins has a new body, he's still got the same old attitude. He's rough, mean and wants to play nasty. With that kind of interior defense, the Lakers won't be able to overpower OKC with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Nene won't give the Thunder big fits. Memphis's duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol shouldn't take down the Thunder inside.
By process of elimination, if that's what the new Perkins is going to do for the Thunder defense, that's championship caliber stuff.