Inside job: Nene ready to do battle with Perkins in the paint

Nuggets expect physical series against Oklahoma City

As the league leader in field-goal percentage, Nuggets center Nene has the potential to be an unstoppable force in the paint.

At 6-foot-10, 280 pounds, Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins has shoulders as wide as a Hummer and does his best impression of an immovable object.

The two forces collided twice in a four-day span earlier this month and the battle in the middle figures to intensify when the Nuggets and Thunder square off during the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Nene and Perkins tangled frequently during late-season games April 5 and 8, and the Nuggets coaching staff will constantly remind Nene to keep his composure no matter how physical things get in the paint.

The message is simple.

“It’s not about you and Perkins,” Denver coach George Karl said. “It’s about the Nuggets and the Thunder and you’re important to us. Don’t do anything individually that’s going to take you away from being a pillar of our foundation.

"We’ll work with you, we’ll help you, we’ll get you through the tough moments, the physical moments, the mental moments. Stay strong and stay focused on the goal.”

Starting with Game 1 Sunday in Oklahoma City, that won’t be a problem, according to Nene.

“I’m not worried about Perkins,” he said. “I’m worried about helping my team. I know he’s going to try to frustrate me. I need to keep my head cool, not hot.”

Seeking a veteran with toughness in the middle, the Thunder acquired Perkins and guard Nate Robinson from the Boston Celtics for talented young forward Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic at the trade deadline.

Perkins is a tough-minded defender who won an NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

“I respect his ability to protect the paint and wrestle in the paint,” Karl said. “There's a lot of wresting going on down there. And he knows how to do it better than probably everybody in the league except for a few guys.

“Can we move him around and put him in situations and positions where he can't wrestle? I think we can. There's different ways. He is a power player. Can we put him in positions where he's going to be a finesse player? That's the challenge.”

If Nene can stay out of foul trouble and continue to be efficient – he averaged 14.5 points on just 8.7 shots per game – the Nuggets will have an advantage in the paint.

Perkins is a strong rebounder but is not much of an offensive threat in the low post. Power forward Serge Ibaka is a little more polished but he and reserve Nick Collison are better known for their hustle, energy and ability to antagonize their opponent.

“Because of the personalities of our teams, I think it’s going to be a physical series,” Karl said. “Perkins isn’t going to make it anything else. Kenyon and Nene aren’t going to make it anything else. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”

ETC: Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson (sprained left ankle) was limited in practice Friday but said he plans to play in Game 1. Lawson, along with Arron Afflalo (hamstring), Nene (groin) and Timofey Mozgov (knee, ankle), continue to be listed as day-to-day … Free-throw shooting is a concern for the Nuggets, whose have shot .717 from the line since the All-Star break. Oklahoma City led the NBA in free-throw shooting at .823. “Will we shoot free throws better coming into the series? I think we will,” Karl said.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...