The game-changer

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 4, 2011 - 7:06 AM

Back to back, the Wolves play Oklahoma City and Boston - the current and former teams of Kendrick Perkins.

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Center Kendrick Perkins, front, brings toughness and championship experience to the Thunder.

Photo: Alonzo Adams, Associated Press

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In a span of 47 hours this weekend, the Timberwolves see the two teams that could reshape both the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs because of that February trade-deadline deal they made.

Oklahoma City and Boston swapped Jeff Green and Kendrick Perkins in a four-player deal that presumably gave the Thunder the defensive toughness and playoff experience it lacked and that brought the Celtics a versatile power forward and center Nenad Krstic for a player Danny Ainge didn't think he could re-sign, anyway.

The Thunder quickly negotiated a contract extension for Perkins, just the next in a series of astute moves made by drum-playing wunderkind Sam Presti that has it positioned to be a title contender in the next decade.

Celtics players treated Perkins' departure as if it were a death in the family, and they've played like it since the Feb. 24 trade.

Slumping down the stretch for the second consecutive season, Boston is 4-6 in its past 10 games, has seen its grasp on the East's No. 1 seed slip away to Chicago and lost Friday night at home to lowly Charlotte.

Afterward, Celtics coach Doc Rivers called his team "selfish" and suggested his players are more prepared these days to pout and moan rather than to win.

Let's see if that holds true Sunday evening against the Wolves at Target Center.

Perkins' absence supposedly hurts the Celtics' formidable defense, but their offense has struggled equally without him, a development Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said he doesn't expect will last with a lineup that includes Green's outside shooting to go with Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

"Now it gives Doc a lot of versatility, particularly with Rondo out there, to space the floor," Rambis said. "He can put people out there who can open the floor a lot better and now it makes it very, very tough for teams to clog up the lane. If you had Perkins out there, it allows somebody to stay in the lane."

Perkins now gives the Thunder that guy who will clog the lane and who, at age 26, is nearly four years older than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

More important, he has won an NBA title and endured the playoff wars.

"He brings toughness, he brings leadership, he brings championship experience," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "He talks to the guys. He's the kind of guy who you don't look at his stats; you look at the little things he does. He's a winner -- he does the little things that help you win.

"Those are the things you don't see on the stat sheet, but as you watch film, you understand he brings it every time down the court."

While the Celtics search for the selflessness than defined their 2008 NBA title and last season's run to the NBA Finals, the Thunder is 5-1 since Perkins entered the lineup. Friday's 111-103 victory over the Wolves ended a string of seven consecutive games in which the Thunder held its opponents under 100 points.

"I've always said we were a good team; we feel we now are a better team that still has work to do," Brooks said. "We're still developing. We still have to get better. But Perks brings a lot of things we need, a lot of things we're excited to have.

"Every team wants to win a championship. We are no different. We are putting the pieces together, and Perk is another important piece we have. He's a young player in this league, and he still has to get better, just like all our young guys do."

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