Monday, April 11, 2011

Perkins brings toughness, swagger to OKC

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - Swagger is a necessary evil among all of the greats in sports.

Whether its Reggie Jackson calling himself "The straw that stirs the drink" in the Bronx or Pat Riley guaranteeing a repeat championship during the Lakers' championship parade back in 1987, confidence is a hallmark of those at the top of any profession.

Occasionally, the puffed out chest is a little misguided, however.

For instance Carmelo Anthony already believes he's the reincarnation of Michael Jordan as a closer even though he's made it past the first round of the playoffs exactly once in his NBA career.

After sinking a game-winner in the waning seconds against Memphis back on March 9, Anthony barked at the Grizzlies bench, "I do this!"

Now, to be fair Anthony has been an excellent closer in the regular season since arriving in The Association but doing it in Game 63 on Beale Street isn't exactly the same as getting it done while dueling against Kobe Bryant or M.J. himself in June.

Which brings me to Kendrick Perkins, the capable Oklahoma City center that talks like he's Wilt Chamberlain.

Perkins, who was acquired by Oklahoma City from Boston in a trade deadline deal, got an early start on the playoff bulletin board material back in March when he lobbed some grenades at the two-time defending champion Lakers.

The big man, known for his tough interior defense and teeth-chattering picks, opined in an interview on how he didn't like Pau Gasol or Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

"Phil is arrogant. Pau is soft," Perkins said. "Kobe Bryant tries to bring out [Pau's] toughness, but he's still soft."

Sunday night, after the Thunder whipped the Lakers, 120-106, at Staples Center, Perkins didn't back away from any of his salvos.

"That was my opinion," the veteran center told the Los Angeles Times. "I know people are entitled to their own opinions. I know people got a lot of different opinions about me. So that was just my opinion from the past battles that we've had in the past playoffs. It wasn't nothing that I said out of character or was too crazy. I just spoke my mind in a way. The thing is you've just got to back it up."

Perkins, of course, was on the 2008 Celtics team that topped the Lakers in the NBA Finals and the 2010 Celtics club that lost to the Lakers in Game 7, partially because Perkins shredded his right knee in Game 6.

At the end of the day, Perkins is what he is, a solid, serviceable big man in a league short on solid, serviceable big men. But, he brings a certain mental toughness to the floor that has his ex-teammates in Boston thinking they can't overcome his absence and his current teammates in Oklahoma City believing he is the final piece to the puzzle.

Remember a young Thunder team already gave the Lakers fits in last year's postseason. Kevin Durant is the NBA's best pure scorer and Russell Westbrook can get to the basket at will against the shaky LA perimeter defense. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City, which won its first Division title since 2004-05 when they were located in Seattle, is 12-3 since Perkins made his debut with the team on March 14.

An objective overview of Perkins' game will tell you he can't possibly match up with the skill of Gasol, Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum. Perkins, however, isn't caught up in PER rankings.

Sure, other players arrive to the dance with more moves but that's before Perk plants the first forearm into their backs -- something no statistician will ever be able to measure.

Other people's opinions have never morphed into Perkins' reality, a player whose confidence in himself has gained the confidence of others.

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