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Dwight Howard's free throw shooting wasn't the problem for the Lakers

By Zach Harper | NBA writer
Was this good offense in the fourth quarter? (Getty Images)

Seven-of-14.

That was what Dwight Howard shot from the free throw line in the fourth quarter on Sunday night against the Orlando Magic.

For Mike D'Antoni and the Los Angeles Lakers, this is the kind of point-per-possession offense near the end of games that they claim they'll take. After Avery Johnson and the Brooklyn Nets used "Hack-a-Howard" in D'Antoni's L.A. debut, D'Antoni seemed to be all for the strategy if Dwight is making at least one out of two each trip. Via LA Times:

"If they start hacking Dwight and he's making one out of two, so that is one point per possession, that's pretty good basketball, especially down the stretch," D'Antoni said. "If they want to do that, that's great. I've got no problem."

The free throw shooting continues to be bad for Dwight Howard. He was 9-of-21 on Sunday night, which dropped his season "accuracy" from the line down to 46.5 percent. His shooting probably wasn't even as good as the numbers make it look, considering he made his final three attempts in the final minute of the game when the Magic were up by double digits.

And, looking at the misses, a lot of them don't even seem to be close.

As bad as these fourth-quarter misses are, what happened after the misses is really the bad part of this game for the Lakers.

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Of the seven possessions in the fourth quarter in which Howard was sent to the free throw line, the Magic scored on the following possession six times. While D'Antoni's math is correct and one point per possession is a good thing, giving up nearly two points per following possession isn't the way to go.

Dwight invariably will get the blame for the defense because this is what he's supposed to fix for teams. He's supposed to help the Lakers shut down opponents in the fourth quarter so everything can be happy and title-contending in Laker Land. However, blaming him for the defensive lapses might not be exactly fair.

There were two big problems that I saw from the Lakers' fourth-quarter defense, which gave up an astounding 148.4 points per 100 possessions (they gave up 102 per 100 possessions in the first half and 87.9 per 100 possessions in the third quarter).

The first was the dribble penetration from the perimeter. With the current rules in the NBA, it's extremely hard to prevent someone from dribbling past you when they are isolated against you or running a pick-and-roll. That said, the Lakers' perimeter defenders acted as saloon doors. Allowing the opposing team to get into the paint so easily puts a ton of pressure on the defensive unit as a whole.

The second problem was once Dwight was forced to step up on defense to contest a potential shot (and he did a good job of it), the backside defense of the Lakers didn't rotate over or drop down to prevent a pass. And that's what good fourth-quarter defenses do: They force you to take contested shots instead of dropping off passes for easy buckets.

The Magic were 7-of-9 in the restricted area in the fourth quarter, and one of those misses was a blocked shot that was immediately put back in by Nikola Vucevic. Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace did an atrocious job taking away passes to Magic players around the rim. And, in doing so, the Lakers made Jacque Vaughn look like Doug Moe in the fourth period.

People immediately joke that bringing back Steve Nash will certainly help the defense. And while that sarcasm is hilarious in its own right, it's not exactly accurate and telling of the Lakers' overall problems. The Lakers managed one point per possession when Dwight was at the free throw line in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, but they managed just an offensive rating of 96.2 in the final 12 minutes.

Nash's return will presumably help them avoid such poor fourth quarters on offense. And the defense of this team has actually been really good this season. Their defense dropped from eighth in the NBA to ninth after last night's loss.

The dilemma of Pau Gasol could also be the issue at hand. The Lakers had a defensive rating of 95.2 with him on the court, but the offense was 88.8 when he was playing. There didn't seem to be much of a balance with the Lakers, and that really was their main issue. It will continue to be something the Lakers and D'Antoni struggle to figure out until the team is relatively healthy and able to build some chemistry and continuity.

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