By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
The importance of free-throw shooting is well-known around basketball circles.
Dwight Howard is bad, Kevin Durant is good. The perception of their all-around games is rightfully affected by that simple fact.
But when breaking down the matchup between two teams, when pairing rival squads up against each other, it’s a facet that can sometimes get lost behind the more appealing parts of the game (the rebounding battle, the coaching battle, who has a better bench?).
But in the Lakers-Thunder experience, which renews late Tuesday night in OKC (8:30 p.m. on TNT), it’s probably the most lopsided area between the teams. Well maybe second most, taking a back seat to the disparity between Russell Westbrook’s blazing open-court speed and Steve Nash’s helplessness in trying to contain it.
Anyway, it’s basically a four-point difference between the teams (So why don’t we give the Thunder a 4-0 lead at the start and skip free throws on Thursday night. It’ll help deadlines).
Let’s take a look at some of the diverging numbers:
-Oklahoma City leads the league, shooting 83.3 percent from the line. No other team is even at 80 percent. The Lakers are dead last in the NBA, shooting 68.9 percent from the line.
-The Thunder score 22.5 points per game at the line on 27.1 shots, three more than anyone else in the league. The Lakers get 18.8 points on 27.2 shots. That means OKC scores nearly four more points than LA at the line per game, while shooting less times.
-Dwight Howard (48.3% from the line) has missed 248 free throws this season on 480 attempts. The entire Thunder team has missed 271 on 1,600 attempts.
-Kevin Durant has missed 51 free throws on 546 attempts.
-Russell Westbrook has missed 84 on 425 means.
-That means, combined, KD and Westbrook have missed 113 less free throws than Dwight Howard on 491 more attempts.
-The Lakers have lost five games this season by four points or less. If they shot OKC’s percentage at the line (83.3%), they’d score nearly four more points per game.
-With five more wins, the Lakers would be 35-25 instead of 30-30. That would be good for sixth in the Western Conference, ahead of the Warriors, Rockets and Jazz.
-Hypothetical, obviously, but free throws clearly matter.