Dwight Howard has to shoulder a ton of blame for the loss, as his poor free throw performance was the difference between a victory and the team falling back below .500.
In the fourth quarter, Howard hit on just 5-of-10 free throw attempts (he went 8-of-16 for the game), as the Rockets continually fouled the big man whenever he touched the rock.
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson knew full well that DH12 is a career 58.4 percent FT shooter, and his percentage is down to an abysmal 46.8 percent through the first 18 games of the 2012-13 season.
The strategy, dubbed “Hack-a-Howard”, was made famous back when Shaquille O’Neal was dominating the paint for the Purple and Gold, as his notoriously awful, and certainly deserved, reputation from the line allowed for teams to foul the dominant center without serious repercussions.
There is a much better chance that Howard, connecting on 59.2 percent of his field goal attempts, earns two points with the ball in the paint compared to uncontested shots from 15 feet out.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the superstar center isn’t concerned about his god-awful percentage from the charity stripe and doesn’t believe that is the reason his team lost.
Howard had this to say in the post-game interview (transcribed by USA TODAY’s Adi Joseph):
"We allowed them to get back into the game. It wasn't just about free throws. ... It wasn't just about me missing free thows toward the end. We've got to do a better job defending... People going to say what they're going to say. But at the end of the day, the reason we lost is not my free throws. That didn't lose us the game. Our defense was not there in the fourth quarter."
The simple fact is, in a two-point game, if Howard had shot near the league average of 75.3 percent (according to Basketball-Reference.com) in the fourth quarter, the Lakers would have had a much better chance to close the Rockets out in regulation or force overtime.
Howard needs to spend extra time with a shooting coach and should be the last one to leave practice, day in and day out, in order to improve his form and chances of making a free try.
As long as the Lakers center remains a liability at the line, opponents are going to continue fouling away with the game on the line.