Lakers center Dwight Howard powers a shot past Hornets center Robin Lopez. (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)
Coach Mike D'Antoni tried to give his team the best chance to win Friday night in a close overtime battle against the Toronto Raptors.
One of his choices was to keep Dwight Howard on the floor when the Lakers were behind with little time left — needing a three-pointer to stay in the game.
Both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash came through for the Lakers, who won a nail-biter in overtime, 118-116.
Some coaches might have pulled Howard off the court to give the Lakers four or five shooters. Instead, D'Antoni said he'll live and die with Howard on the floor.
"I'm not taking Dwight out. He's too valuable. You take him out, like when they did hack-a-Shaq at the end ... then defensively we can't stop anybody," said D'Antoni. "He'll make his foul shots. I've got faith in him. If everybody plays hard and if that's how we go down, then we'll go down that way."
On plays where the team needs a three, D'Antoni isn't concerned about Howard getting caught with the ball — and sent to the free-throw line.
"We know how to get around that," he said. "That's not a big deal."
In one play Friday, Nash inbounded the ball to an open Howard, who then quickly flipped the ball back to the veteran guard. Nash made a three-pointer with 45.3 seconds left to tie the score, 115-115.
"The thinking was, I don't want all [our] little guys in and everybody [on defense] just switches and we don't create anything," said D'Antoni. "[Howard] can screen well."
The plays certainly worked against the Raptors, although it took heroics from the team's star guards.
"They'll probably switch everything," said D'Antoni of opposing defenders. "A lot of times if you leave a big out there, they'll leave their big out there. There's also the possibility of offensive rebounds."
On the following play, with the score still tied at 115, Howard helped keep forward Rudy Gay away from Bryant's game-winning dunk with a little tug of the jersey.
Would the Lakers have won the game if Howard was on the bench for another shooter like Steve Blake or Jodie Meeks?
The results on Friday say D'Antoni made the right call, but long term it's certainly open for debate.
"I have guys that I trust at the end of game and he's one of them," D'Antoni said of Howard. "That's how we're going to go."