by Marcel Mutoni / @marcel_mutoni

To the surprise of the entire basketball-watching universe, the Lakers/Thunder first round Playoff series is deadlocked at two games apiece. It is a reality that no one expected to be facing, least of all the defending champions.

With critical Game 5 tipping off tonight in Los Angeles — and history showing that the winner of this game, goes on to win the series 83% of the time — almost to a man, the Lakers say they will rebound and right the ship.

Pau Gasol and head coach Phil Jackson came close to guaranteeing a victory following practice yesterday. The OC Register reports:

“It’s a must-win game for us,” Gasol said Monday after Lakers practice.

Gasol also said he looks forward to the Lakers performing so well that the result Tuesday night will “send a message” to the Thunder. That message to Oklahoma City’s players regarding their two victories thus far? “That’s all they’re going to get,” Gasol said.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson sounded confident also about the Lakers increasing their focus and intensity. When asked if it is all about hustle, Jackson said: “It is. It really is.” Jackson also said about Game 5: “We’re going to get this thing turned around tomorrow.”

Bravado aside, health-wise, the Lakers did receive some good news: Kobe Bryant’s finger seems to be on the mend, and Bryant says he feels great heading into tonight’s showdown.

History is on L.A’s side, but the Thunder have repeatedly proven that nothing about this series is guaranteed. Tonight’s game will determine which team takes outright control.

I trust that I don’t have to encourage any of you to tune in.