Why the Lakers Are Maddeningly Inconsistent in the Clutch

Carrot Juice AddictContributor IMarch 31, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 25: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers sits on the bench during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on March 25, 2013 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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 fear about him getting fouled at the end of games because of his poor free-throw shooting, but it's still surprising how little he touches the ball during crunch time. 

We know Bryant's not going to change. He still wants the ball in his hands. But the Lakers could have Nash handle the ball and have Bryant make cuts and curls off screens (especially Howard's picks).

While this isn't exactly a textbook example, Bryant getting the ball after a Nash pass made life easier for him. At least Nash was able to take defenders away, giving Bryant only single coverage. Once again, it made for a happy ending for the Lakers. And before that Kobe shot, No. 24 drawing opponents left Nash wide open for a three.

What it all comes down to is that the Lakers need more balance in the clutch. They have more star players now, so why not use them? It's not like the Lakers are stuck with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown.

Let Nash set up the play. Have Howard set picks or go inside. And since Bryant wants to take the last shot, let him find open spots and have him catch and shoot.

It sounds silly and simple, but if the Lakers work together instead of just relying on Bryant, Los Angeles would be better served in close-game situations.

*Stats provided by NBA.com/stats and Play-by-Play image from ESPN.com