Why the Lakers Are Maddeningly Inconsistent in the Clutch

The Los Angeles Lakers have been quite inconsistent this season in the clutch. It's baffling why they have been, especially with Kobe Bryant on the team.

But the truth is that, more than ever, they seem to rely on Bryant down the stretch in close games. In clutch situations (the last five minutes of the fourth quarter when neither team is ahead by more than five points), the Black Mamba's usage rate (percentage of plays that end with a shot, free throws, or turnover) is way too high. Byrant is at 49.8 percent in those situations this season, which shows how much the Lakers rely on him.

His usage rate was at 40.1 percent in the 2011-12 season. With Steve Nash and Dwight Howard now on the team, for Bryant's rate to increase this year makes it even more puzzling.

An example of Bryant having the ball too much is that dreadful fourth quarter against the Wizards on March 22. As you can see from the play-by-play, Bryant took nearly all the shots in that period. There was hardly any ball movement as the Wizards went on to beat the Lakers, 103-100. Bryant went 4-of-10 in that fourth quarter, which saw most of the Lakers standing around while he created his own shot.

This was another example of Kobe having the ball too much. While it resulted in a 99-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks, it's another case of the 34-year-old keeping the ball and creating for himself. There was a Howard screen that ultimately was useless. But otherwise, it was all Bryant.

So, with Bryant's usage rate in crunch time being higher than ever, what about Nash and Howard?

Nash's usage went from 24.3 percent last year to 13.9 this season. Yes, he was with the Suns last season,  but Nash was supposed to help initiate plays for the Lakers. Instead, he's been mostly relegated to spot-up duty in those situations. 

As for Howard, he went from 18.7 percent in 2011-12 to 11.3 in this campaign. There is fea...

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