Originally written on Larry Brown Sports  |  Last updated 12/5/12
Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni says he does not plan to bench Dwight Howard at the end of games despite the center’s struggles at the free throw line. The Houston Rockets became the latest team to foul Howard purposely at the end of a game and see the strategy work in their favor. They began fouling Howard when they were down 97-93 with 3:17 left on Tuesday. Howard went 5-for-10 from the line after being fouled five straight times, and the Rockets went on to win the game 107-105. Coach D’Antoni said that Howard’s missed free throws weren’t the issue, and that he wouldn’t bench him anyway to solve the problem. “You don’t do that to a guy, and he made his foul shots. He’s not the reason that our defense breaks down, he’s not the reason that stuff happens,” D’Antoni said, via Lakers.com. “He’s gotta work through this. You take him out now, and what are you going to do, take him out all the time? You have a player that’s going to be your franchise player and you don’t do that to him. “It’s not him that’s causing the problem. It’s not a good thing, a knee-jerk kind of reaction … he’s fine. That’s not a problem. He made the last 4 out 6, and you have to go up and knock them down, and he will. We shouldn’t even be talking about that, because it shouldn’t come down to that. We shouldn’t have had 19 turnovers, and we shouldn’t lose our guys on a switch or on the perimeter. That’s not him; he’s doing a hell of a job, and he will continue to do that, and we’ll work through this.” D’Antoni is right in his mindset. You cannot plan to bench one of your franchise players at the end of all your close games, especially when he has such a big impact defensively. However, he needs to come up with a better solution. D’Antoni might have to consider taking Dwight off the floor when the Lakers get the ball, and then reinserting him into the game when they’re on defense. The numbers speak the truth about the matter. According to stats from ESPN, Dwight Howard’s free throw shooting has been awful in “clutch time,” which is defined as times when the score is within five in last five minutes of fourth quarter or overtime. Howard is 7-16 (43.8%) during “clutch time,” while the rest of the Lakers are 13-19 (68.4%). Howard is shooting .468% on free throws this season, which is down from his career average of .584. Even Shaq was never this bad at the line when teams began employing the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy against his teams (he was a .557 shooter in his worst year). Howard really needs to get his act together.
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