Los Angeles Lakers: Has Kobe Bryant Lost His Fourth-Quarter Mojo?

During the 2009-2010 NBA regular season, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hit seven shots in the fourth quarter or overtime that were directly responsible for victories for his team.

But these days, it's a struggle for Bryant to score in the fourth quarter at all.

Last night, the Lakers lost to the San Antonio Spurs 89-88 on a last-second tip-in by Antonio McDyess, but the true story of the game from a purple-and-gold perspective may have been Bryant's 1-of-5 shooting performance in the fourth quarter.

Bryant's dismal shooting in the clutch may be the defining trend in a season that has seen the Lakers lose five out of six games to the teams ahead of them in the current NBA standings.

In a season in which the Lakers have played below the expectations of many, the last thing most people expected to see was Bryant fail in one of the main areas in which he has carved his reputation.

To be fair, Bryant cannot be solely blamed for the Lakers' struggles in the past few weeks, and there are many other culprits who are equally at fault for the team's recent spate of fourth quarter collapses.

Point guards Derek Fisher and Steve Blake have been unable to prevent penetration in the lane, Andrew Bynum is not yet fully recovered from his constant knee ailments and Pau Gasol at times looks like he's searching for his second wind.

The Lakers are also suffering from injuries to Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, but that is still no excuse for the Lakers' inability to execute when it matters the most.

And most of that can be traced back to Bryant.

The rest of the team feeds off Bryant and, when he is playing with focus and intensity in the closing quarters of games, the Lakers generally follow suit.

But Bryant's poor shot selection and indecision in the fourth quarter has had an opposite trickle-down effect, which has allowed the opposition to seize momentum at the ...

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