Lakers: Struggles at Foul Line Is Real Reason L.A. Is Losing Winnable Games

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 29, 2012

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 24:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on November 24, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Maybe former coach Mike Brown wasn't the reason for the Lakers' early season struggles. Perhaps scapegoat Pau Gasol isn't the source either.

The reason behind this team's struggles may boil down to one of the simplest, most fundamental tasks in the sport: free-throw shooting.

As reported by Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers have lost four of their games by a combined margin of 21 points. During those four games, they've missed a total of 61 freebies.

Dwight Howard is the obvious culprit behind these shooting woes, but he's not the only one struggling at the line. It's nearly a team-wide epidemic as the Lakers have converted just 66.8 percent of their free throws in 2012-13, the second worst percentage in the NBA.

For as bad as Superman has looked at the free-throw line (47.8 percent), he hasn't been the league's worst shooter. Far from it, in fact. Al Horford, Ersan Ilyasova and Josh Smith are just a few of the players who have converted a worse percentage than Howard.

So why are the Lakers trailing so many teams in this category? Because Howard isn't the only player trying to shake his free-throw demons.

Antawn Jamison (a career 72.5 percent free-throw shooter) has made just 63.2 percent of his attempts this season. Jordan Hill has shaved more than five percentage points off of his career average with this season's mark of 66.9. Even Steve Nash replacement Darius Morris has struggled from the line, making just 56.5 percent of his tries.

The Lakers don't look like a 7-8 team. And that's because they have no business having that record in the first place. Not with the kind of talent that the front office has added to this roster. And not with Kobe Bryant channeling his MVP season of 2007-08 with 27.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists.

But their inability to make shots has handcuffed this team from showing the progress that new coach Mike D'Antoni was supposed to bring. They've been nearly as bad from the three-point line (34.7 percent, 20th in the NBA) as they have from the charity stripe. Neither of these shooting issues bodes well for a D'Antoni-led offense predicated on perimeter shooting and attacking the basket.

Free-throw struggles are so mentally encompassing that they have the potential to disrupt an entire NBA season. Missing what should be the easiest shot of the game takes its toll on players. They question why the shots aren't falling as easily as they during practice, and next thing they know they are trapped in thought each time they step to the free-throw line.

Given Gasol's struggles, the Lakers have to find a way to get Howard to at least a respectable conversion rate. They don't have the kind of depth that would allow them to hide Howard on the bench during crunch time, particularly when two of their backup bigs (Hill and Jamison) are fighting their own battles at the line.

D'Antoni can't simply make his players better shooters. Same goes for Nash when he returns to the floor.

If these struggles persist throughout the season, the Lakers will continue to give away close games. And given the knee-jerk tendencies of this front office, these shooting woes could end up costing the franchise wins and its employees their jobs.


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