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Lakers just can't hack it in 113-103 loss to Magic

They fall to 8-9 after allowing Orlando to score 40 points in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard goes nine for 21 from the free-throw line against his former team, which employs the "Hack-a-Howard" strategy often in the final 12 minutes.

December 02, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Dwight Howard missed seven of 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter during the Lakers loss to the Magic.
Dwight Howard missed seven of 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter… (Harry How / Getty Images )

The people of Orlando, those who weren't tourists or wearing felt mouse ears Sunday night, were probably beaming at a final score 2,200 miles away.

Orlando Magic 113, Lakers 103.

It was the latest blast in a season full of them, the Lakers pulled apart by another inferior team.

Dwight Howard buckled at the free-throw line, Pau Gasol was benched most of the fourth quarter and the Lakers somehow surrendered 40 fourth-quarter points to the NBA's third-lowest scoring team before Sunday.

On the plus side, Kobe Bryant didn't throw a tantrum. Or maybe that's a minus. The last time he did, the Lakers went out the next day and won easily.

These are the Lakers (8-9) right now. Not strong. Not fun. Not well.

Howard had 21 points and 15 rebounds but made only nine of 21 free-throw attempts at Staples Center. The team he left in a dramatic four-way trade in August picked on him by purposely fouling him four times in the fourth quarter. He made four of eight from the line in the latest "Hack-a-Howard" episode.

He was unhappy afterward, his jovial personality replaced by tight answers and pressed lips.

What were his thoughts on being fouled intentionally?

"I don't have any thoughts," he said.

Did he feel like a chapter was closed by playing his old team?

"That chapter was closed when I got traded."

Is he happy in L.A.?

"Obviously, I'm enjoying myself," he said almost morosely.

Howard flat ignored some questions from an Orlando television reporter with whom he had a hostile relationship after asking to be traded by the Magic. A Lakers publicist stepped in toward the end, telling the reporter to "quit antagonizing him."

Howard opened up a little bit, eventually, about his dire free-throw shooting.

"I'm going to continue to practice," he said. "That's all I can do, is continue to practice and they'll start falling."

Coach Mike D'Antoni said he wouldn't remove Howard in late-game situations despite his 46.5% free-throw accuracy.

"I could, but you want to do that? You take him out, that's drawing a big line," D'Antoni said. "He'll get through this."

Meanwhile, in Gasol's corner of the locker room, there was muted talk about being held out of the final 6:07 of the fourth quarter, benched again in favor of Antawn Jamison. Gasol started the game smoothly but finished with 11 points on four-for-11 shooting. He did not score in the second half, missing all four of his shots.

"I don't get irritated," he said. "It's upsetting for me as a player, but I don't allow it to irritate me. Coach makes his decisions and you've got to respect them."

Gasol sat near the end of the bench for the final minutes, his chin resting on his left hand, a towel slung around his shoulders. Bryant, who had 34 points and five assists, had some advice for him.

"Put your big boy pants on. Just adjust," he said. "You can't whine about it. I'm 34 years old. I'm running screen-and-rolls out there. Steve [Nash] is out and my [tail] is running up and down the court more than I have my entire career. You have to adjust to it. I stay after practice and work on my ball-handling, my screen and roll."

D'Antoni was more measured in his response. "We just have to be a more dynamic team," he said. "We're slow right now. Athletically, we're struggling against young teams that just run up and down."

Arron Afflalo had 30 points for Orlando (6-10), more than doubling his season average. Nikola Vucevic had 17 points, almost twice is average.

The Lakers play seven of their next eight games on the road, where they are 1-4 this season. They play Tuesday in Houston, Wednesday in New Orleans and Friday in, gulp, Oklahoma City.

This was supposed to be the easier game for Howard, who plays in Orlando on March 12, in front of a presumably angry crowd. It's tough to predict where the Lakers will be in the standings at that time, but losses like this won't help their cause.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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