There exists a solution to the Lakers’ “Hack-a-Howard” problem that can still allow Dwight Howard to be advantageous for the Lakers in the fourth quarter without breaking the big man’s confidence or the team’s offensive rhythm.
In the solution, Howard would play the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, rest for four minutes when Kobe Bryant enters the game, and finish the game for the final two minutes. Howard would need to rest at the end of the third quarter, so the extra two minutes he would play in the fourth quarter would result in Howard scaling back his third-quarter minutes.
Currently, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni prefers to play Dwight Howard the first 12 minutes of each half and the last six to eight minutes of each half. Using this formula, D’Antoni has Howard at 36.5 minutes per game since taking over.
D’Antoni is admirable in his stance that pulling Howard out of the game when he is being intentionally fouled away from the ball would set a bad precedent for a franchise player. D’Antoni is even correct in his assumption that pulling the player out when teams intentionally foul may shatter the player’s confidence.
However, the solution to the “Hack-a-Howard” strategy would involve giving Howard eight minutes in the final quarter, over the six minutes he currently plays. Playing more minutes, especially the final two minutes, in the fourth quarter should give Howard even more confidence that his coach trusts him to win the game.
The solution to the “Hack-a-Dwight” conundrum involves planning around the strategy, rather than reacting to the strategy. The intentional foul away from the ball is generally utilized between the six-minute and two-minute mark of the fourth quarter. This is the time when the team fouls usually go over the foul limit.
If Howard is regularly rested during this time in the game, the “Hack-a-Howard” strategy would not be an option for the opposition. Currently, at six minutes, Howard returns to finish the game. Unfortunately, this is also the point when Kobe Bryant returns to the game.
As was the case in Houston, the opponent prefers to take Howard at the free-throw line over the Black Mamba in attack mode. So, the greatest offensive scorer of the last two decades idly stands by as one of the worst free-throw shooters in league history takes foul shots.
That is not an effective offense.
At the two minute mark, when the opposing team can no longer intentionally foul players away from the ball, Howard can return fresh to contribute on both ends of the floor. If the ball goes to Howard and the opposition chooses to foul him at that point, the Lakers can show their confidence in Howard to win games by leaving him in.
This solution would provide a positive resolution for Howard, as he would play more minutes in the deciding period—including the final two minutes. It would also benefit the Lakers team, which would avoid having to see the entire offense turn into Dwight Howard's free throws at the crucial point in the game. Most importantly, it would serve the fans by not forcing them to watch Howard at the line in the fourth quarter, instead of—well—basketball.