The Los Angeles Lakers should prepare for Dwight Howard to spend a lot of time at the line as the season winds down, particularly if Kobe Bryant is unable to return quickly from injury. While the "Hack-a-Howard" strategy employed by the Orlando Magic on March 12 may not become the norm, it is unlikely to go away.
Coach Mike D'Antoni does not appreciate the strategy (via ESPN), but it should not surprise him. After all, he experienced the same thing when he coached Shaquille O'Neal during his stint with the Phoenix Suns. The thought process is the same, and in the NBA it can be a boring but necessary defensive scheme.
Line up the big men, and load up the fouls.
Fans may not respect this defensive strategy, and for good reason. However, if you are an opposing team, what would you do? Maintain the honor of playing standard, straight-up defense? It certainly doesn't do it any good to put Kobe Bryant on the line (83.8 percent for the season).
Winning any sports contest is about strategy. Find your opponent's biggest weakness. Exploit that weakness. Simple.
What are the most significant weaknesses of the Lakers? Defense and Dwight Howard's free-throw shooting.
D'Antoni is right when he was quoted as saying, "We're an entertainment business. That's not entertaining for anybody."
This is true. Who wants to watch a big man clank his throws? However, when it comes to key games, the goal is to win. Teams may recognize that the NBA is a business, but winning translates to earning power for individual players in the future.
An ugly win is still a win.
One could argue that one of D'Antoni's comments is only partially true. He said, "I hate it for the fans. They can come to practice for free and watch them shoot 40-50 foul shots. They don't even have to pay for tickets. I'll invite them all." You heard it, folks. Everyone is invited to Lakers practice.
Realistically, D'Antoni is not just worried about the lack of entertainment attached to Howard shooting free throws. D'Antoni is arguably worried about this becoming a consistent defensive strategy that could lead to losses. You have to imagine that D'Antoni knows Dwight's free throws are not going to improve anytime soon.
The performance against the Orlando Magic may have been an anomaly.
Howard's performance against his former team was seen as a positive sign, but the numbers also have to be put into context. Dwight went 25-for-39 from the line. For those of you scoring at home, that is 64.1 percent.
Obviously, 64.1 percent is better than Howard's season average at the line, which was 48.7 percent as of March 14. However, 64 percent is still unacceptable for a professional basketball player. Howard was 0-3 from the line in the 96-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on March 13 while Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were combining for 15-of-47 (31.9 percent) from the floor.
At the end of the ESPN article, there was mention of the NBA rules committee looking at intentional fouls. The reality is that it would be difficult to legislate the difference between an obvious intentional foul and a standard hard foul that occurs when a player is going up for a shot.
The simple solution to this problem is for Howard to hit 70 percent of his free throws from now until the end of the season. Granted, it might be a little late in the season for Dwight to retool his shooting form or discover a vast, untapped resource of mental strength.
Dwight had better be practicing his free throws. They may be the key to the Lakers making the playoffs.
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