OKLAHOMA CITY – After two run-ins with Denver center Nene late in the season, Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins hesitated for a moment when asked Saturday what he expected from the matchup in the playoffs.
The two big men were literally face to face — foreheads pressed against each other — in Denver less than two weeks ago, then Nene had to push his way out of a Perkins headlock in a rematch three days later in Oklahoma City.
When the teams play again Sunday night in Game 1, there's almost an expectation that the two will butt heads again.
"Is this a trick question?" Perkins asked. "I don't know. I don't know what to expect."
The Thunder brought in Perkins for times like these.
A stout defender in the low post, he brings the youthful Thunder a load of playoff experience. While most of his teammates have never made it out of the first round, Perkins has won an NBA title in Boston and went back to the finals last season.
He wasn't even healthy when Oklahoma City sent away two starters to get him from Boston at the trade deadline. All he talked about was getting enough games under his belt so he could be ready when the playoffs started.
The Thunder went 13-4 with him in the lineup, with Serge Ibaka moving from backup center to starting power forward.
"He gives them a defensive presence that they didn't have, and I think the combination of Ibaka moving in a good direction and him coming in, that's a strong play," Denver coach George Karl said last week. "Defensively, it's a strong play."
Before the trade deadline, Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha were Oklahoma City's only players who had ever advanced in the postseason — each reaching the second round once. The Thunder added Perkins and Nate Robinson in the deal with the Celtics, plus Nazr Mohammed — who won a title in San Antonio — from Charlotte.
"With Perk, Nazr and Nate, they bring experience, they bring in some defensive toughness, but we still have to do our job," coach Scott Brooks said. "Guys have to play their roles and do it well, and we have to continue to stick together as a team, and I see that happening.
"We're not going to change that now that the playoffs are here."
Perkins isn't changing either, saying he's not making anything personal with Nene, despite what happened in their previous meetings.
"I haven't played against him enough. I've just played against him in two games," Perkins said. "I just know I'm a physical guy, so I like to play physical. And I know one thing about playing physical is that you've got to be willing to get hit back sometimes.
"I'm just going to go out there and do what I'm doing. I can't worry about what Nene's doing."
And he's certainly not ruling out any more heated exchanges.
"I think all playoff games get a little chippy," Perkins said. "This one's not going to be any different. I think when it's playoff time, you get a couple hard fouls. Guys are going a little harder because guys are not trying to go home.
"I think if we was playing whoever, it would get a little chippy."
Perkins made it clear after the first clash with Nene that he didn't plan to back down.
"At the end of day, I've got my guys' back 110 percent," Perkins said the next day. "I'm not out there trying to be tough. I'm not out there acting any kind of way.
"It's just who I am. That's just how I carry myself."