For those of us that have watched this team for years, this is a scenario we’ve all seen before. I realize Dwight Howard doesn’t care for the Shaquille O’Neal comparisons, but in this case it is far too relevant. The reality is, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to win three consecutive NBA championships with a starting center that shot 53 percent from the free throw line over the stretch (1999/2000-2001/2002).
If you want to look back even further, Wilt Chamberlain shot 42 percent from the line during the 1971-72 championship season. They can’t all be the 72 percent (career) free throw shooter Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was.
Fact is, many big men struggle from the line. It’s common, and something teams simply have to withstand until the issue can be resolved or improved upon. What shouldn’t be considered common? Giving up 62 points in the second half to a Houston Rockets team enduring a 3-19 (FG) game from its leading scorer, James Harden. Especially, when you consider it came just on the heels of surrendering 40 points in the fourth quarter to an Orlando Magic team that is currently 26th in the league averaging 93.1 points per game.
While I certainly won’t completely gloss over the issue of Dwight Howard’s free throw percentage, I have to wholeheartedly agree with his statements when asked if coach Mike D’Antoni should bench him during “Hack-A-Howard” situations following the game:
Why should he take me out? Like I said, the more I continue to practice, the more they are going to fall. But there’s other things you can do on the court to help your team. It’s not just about the free throws.
Don’t get me wrong, the free throws are significant, but Howard is exactly right when he mentions “other things” being just as important. Rotating on defense, helping the helper, and communicating while on the court would certainly remedy a large portion of the problem. A dedication to ball movement and a maintained focus on working the offense through the post (inside-out) would also help. Also, if you’re considering Howard as the future face of the franchise, and more importantly the ‘force’ in the offense, then you’re going to need to find a way to win in spite of some bad free throw shooting.
The loss to Houston stands out, because not only was it a game the Lakers held a 17-point (second half) lead in, but it was the manner by which they self-destructed down the stretch. They got out-worked and out-hustled, which has been a recurring theme for this team over the past couple seasons. The reaction on Twitter was split, likely according to which faction/player you support. Regardless of what side of the fence you reside on, these Lakers have multiple issues that need to be addressed. Notice the difference out there last night against the Hornets? Great ball movement, 24 team assists, and an easy 16-point victory. Missed free throws, while a concern, are less significant when you have a double digit lead. It doesn’t hurt when you cut your average turnovers in half with only nine on the night.
Bryant, while I congratulate and appreciate him for reaching the 30,000 point level all (30,016) in a Lakers uniform, must come to a place where he feels comfortable with relying upon this group to come through in the big moments. Bryant, to his credit, needs the other players (namely, Howard) to want and need to win as much as he does. May seem like a tall task, but unlike others, I’m not asking Howard to change his personality and amiable disposition. Like Bryant, I simply want Dwight to display that ‘eye-of-the-tiger’ when the chips are on the line. There’s nothing wrong with destroying your opponent with fire in your eyes and a smile on your face. Magic did it throughout his career. While others may make a big deal out of the semi-heated exchange between the two superstars, I actually think that’s precisely the type of ‘fight’ Bryant wants to see from his teammates. Just as Bryant is there to teach Howard how to be a winner and become legendary, Dwight can also be that dominant force to challenge and balance Kobe out.
I want take a moment to also acknowledge Metta World Peace for being only the 6th player in NBA history to record 12,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, 1,000 3ptrs made, and 1,500 steals. In what has already been a bounce-back season for MWP, it is nice to see his all-around game and longevity get recognized. Speaking of longevity, I can’t speak to how much of a pleasure it has been personally witnessing just about all of Bryant’s 30,000+ points. Now that we have the milestones aside, it would be nice if this team could string together a few positive and consistent performances.
Regardless of odds or injuries, the match-up with OKC is a game where any team with realistic championship aspirations will find a way to compete in. You play defense, give maximum effort for a full 48 minutes, and stick to the team-oriented principles on offense, and an under-manned team can go into to any building and get a win on a given night.