The Hack-a-Howard Era has begun.
If necessary, it will continue in OKC.
The Lakers are coming to town for a prime-time showdown on Friday night. Even though they are playing like the Zombie Lakers — a game under .500 and a dreadful 2-5 on the road — the Thunder will need every advantage to beat a team that will surely be gunning for it.
Hack-a-Howard is a plus for the Thunder.
Three teams in the past week have intentionally sent the Laker big man and woeful free-throw shooter Dwight Howard to the charity stripe late in games. Two of those teams won because of it.
“We've done it in the past,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of intentionally fouling an awful foul shooter. “It's not something that we will think about much going into it. But ... if the game dictates that, we will consider it.”
As well they should.
It could win the game.
Tuesday night, Houston became the second team in as many games to use Hack-a-Howard successfully. Orlando did it a few nights early in a resounding 10-point victory, so when Houston found itself clawing back from a 17-point deficit, it decided to give it a try.
Howard, who is shooting only 46.9 percent from the line this season, made just 5 of 10 free-throws in the final eight minutes of the game, which might not seem so bad.
Except that the Lakers lost by two.
Granted, Los Angeles gave up 34 points to Houston in the fourth quarter, so Howard's misses can't be blamed entirely. And yet the Lakers' offense got knocked completely off kilter during his repeated marches to the free-throw line. By the time he made three in a row and the Rockets stopped intentionally grabbing and bumping him, the damage had already been done.
“It doesn't just impact the player,” Brooks said. “It impacts the entire team.”
A man who wrote his doctoral dissertation on free-throw shooting couldn't agree more.
Jim Poteet used to be the basketball coach and athletic director at Southern Nazarene, but he is better known as one of the world's foremost experts on free-throw shooting. He not only studied it but also won more than 300 medals in it.
“What Dwight does at the free-throw line affects the rest of his teammates,” Poteet said. “They're saying, ‘Oh, no, we're down to crunch time, and they're gonna foul him and put him at the line.'”