Lakers center Dwight Howard puts down a dunk against the Hornets on Wednesday… (Stacy Revere / Getty Images )
NEW ORLEANS -- One night after being intentionally bumped, grabbed and nudged, Dwight Howard fought back. Hard.
The Lakers center put a quick end to the New Orleans Hornets' Hack-a-Howard strategy late in the third quarter, making two consecutive free throws after being deliberately fouled.
The Hornets didn't touch Howard again Wednesday night at New Orleans Arena, though he played less than four minutes in the fourth quarter with the Lakers leading during a 103-87 win.
Howard probably hasn't seen the last of opponents' unwanted advances.
"Teams are going to still foul," said Howard, who made four of eight free throws. "People might look at it as something bad. We can't hang our heads on the free-throw situation. They're going to start falling. I'll continue to practice it every day and I'm going to stop stressing myself about it."
The Lakers have assigned assistant coach Chuck Person to work with Howard on his free throws, but they are reluctant to ask one of the best shooters in NBA history to help. Though Steve Nash is a career 90.35% free-throw shooter, Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said he had no plans for the guard to tutor Howard.
"I'm just trying to get Steve back on the floor," D'Antoni said, referring to the small fracture in Nash's fibula that has sidelined him since Oct. 31. Howard entered Wednesday shooting 46.8% from the line this season, ranking No. 350 among all NBA players.
He had a strong all-around performance against the Hornets, with 18 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and three assists. His presence as a second line of defense was encouraging.
"We all have to learn that if you get beat, sometimes it's not the worst thing in the world," Lakers forward Antawn Jamison said. "When that happens you have to trust that Dwight is going to be there."
NBA Commissioner David Stern told reporters he didn't have any objection to the Hornets' changing their nickname to the Pelicans or to the Charlotte Bobcats' becoming the Hornets. Louisiana's state bird is the pelican.
"I think everything sounds good," Stern said. "I think that Lakers — have you guys seen any lakes in Los Angeles? There's the same amount of lakes in Los Angeles as there is Jazz in Utah and Grizzlies in Memphis.… Whatever works for the team works for me."
Pau Gasol, who sat out a second consecutive game to soothe the tendinitis in his knees, left open the possibility of returning Friday for the Lakers' marquee matchup against Oklahoma City. "It's not impossible," said the power forward, adding that he would see how he feels after the Lakers take Thursday off.... Reserve guard Steve Blake underwent successful surgery to repair his torn abdominal muscle. He is expected to miss at least six to eight more weeks.
Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.