Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a free throw during the second… (Michael Nelson / EPA )
The Lakers have now dropped five games in which the number of missed free throws exceeded the losing margin. The most fundamental aspect of the game is the difference between a 47.1% winning percentage and 76.5%.
"Seems like we can't get out of our own way and it's obviously very disappointing," said Coach Mike D'Antoni after Sunday night's 113-103 loss to the Orlando Magic.
The Magic intentionally fouled Dwight Howard multiple times, but the center was only able to convert 9 of 21.
Afterward, Howard didn't want to address the issue. For over a week now, he's been reluctant to talk about free-throw shooting (46.5% on the season).
"I need to keep being aggressive, keep practicing and they'll start to fall," said Howard, who noted that he regularly makes them in practice.
D'Antoni downplayed the free-throw angle, saying the team lost the game in the first half when they gave up a lead.
"We've got to clear things out for Dwight," said D'Antoni. "I think our problem is not coming out with intensity and the purpose that we need to have."
The Lakers fell apart defensively in the fourth quarter, possibly spurred on by frustration with the parade of free throws Howard was forced to take.
"He should look at it as an opportunity, because you know once he conquers the ability to make free throws, the sky is the absolute limit for him," said Kobe Bryant said of Howard.
D'Antoni noted that he won't take his center out of the game under those circumstances, otherwise teams will know the easiest way to get Howard off the floor is to foul him repeatedly.
The Lakers, without Steve Nash, aren't good enough to win consistently if they're going to be a disaster at the line.
A lot of that falls on Howard, but then he is also responsible for much of what puts the Lakers in a position to win.
This team is a work in progress, and the path ahead clearly is not a straight one.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.