Three eighth seeds have beat the top seed. The Thunder have a chance to join their ranks. It will take a phenomenal effort from their stars and role players with a collapse from the defending champs.
However, the Thunder have the stars to matchup and the Lakers have shown every sign of a team that could fail to rise to the occasion. Three things must happen to make the upset possible.
Durant Challenges Kobe
Kobe is one of those players that often has problems putting his team's success before his own pride. In his heart he always believes that he gives his team the best chance to win. Usually he can survive this because of his immense skill, but Kobe is not 100 percent. He is injured and if he goes into full-scale attack mode he will probably prove more a liability than an asset.
Kobe Bryant will face a strong challenge when he has to put up his points against Thabo Sefolosha, one of the best defenders in the game. Even if Bryant were not hurt, he would have to work to get his points against such a strong defender. With him hurt, it will be rough. If Bryant is putting up 5-for-20s, the Lakers are going to lose.
Durant is the perfect guy to bring out this reaction. He is a rising star who can put a lot of points on the board in a hurry. With the right smack talk (Durant will already be worked up because of Jackson's comments), Kobe could take the bait of trying to keep up and show himself superior to the young buck.
Honestly, if Kobe is full strength, he probably wins this duel. However, he is not and this struggle will be futile. If he bypasses his other options who have mismatches, like Gasol, Odom, and Bynum (who may not even be healthy), then the battle has already been won.
The sad thing is that the Lakers could have guaranteed their path to at least to the finals, if not the championship, with a trade. If the Lakers went through with a rumored Bosh-for-Bynum trade, the championship would be theirs to lose. If they did not want to give up on Bynum and just upgraded at the point guard position, then they would not have been as vulnerable. However, they chose to do nothing. Big mistake!
They will be going against Russell Westbrook. One of the the most talented young point guards in the game. While not a great shooter, he can get to the hoop. Against the mummified Derek Fisher, erratic Shannon Brown, and inept Jordan Farmar this could be a breakout performance for the UCLA alum.
Westbrook has been slowing down for the last month. If he continues his slide, then the Thunder are toast. If he returns to what he has done most of the year then this will be a series.
Serge Ibaka Needs To Avoid Foul Trouble
Serge Ibaka is the most talented big man on the Thunder. This series may be Serge Ibaka's coming out party. Ibaka's athleticism has already caused Duncan fits in their matchups. If he stays in the game, he can make the Lakers bigs work.
Jeff Green gets more publicity, but the developing big man is going to have to significant playing time to keep the bigs of OKC from being completely outplayed. If he is gone and Kobe is distributing to the bigs, then Collison, Green, and Krstic are going to get worked.
Are the Thunder going to win? Probably not. However, I would not bet the house on the Lakers. You may just be surprised. No matter what, Oklahoma is lucky to have stolen this team from Seattle. With Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka, they have a very bright future.