Dwight Howard’s record-tying 39 free throws on Tuesday in Orlando were difficult to watch.
The Los Angeles Lakers led by double digits for all but one possession of the fourth quarter, and the Orlando Magic continued to employ the “Hack-a-Howard” strategy. He made 10 of 12 free throws in the final period, as tired fans fell asleep in their living rooms. Ignoring the scoreboard or his consistency at the foul line, the Magic intentionally fouled Howard over and over.
With the Lakers up by a comfortable margin, this was not exactly a case of nerves and excitement on whether Howard would make each foul shot. It seemed that Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was intent on reminding Orlando what life was like with Dwight: free throws and boring basketball.
Tuesday’s return to Orlando was a prime example of overhyped media ultimately concluding in basketball ennui.
“I hate it for the fans,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said about the “Hack-a-Howard” strategy after the win over the Magic. “They can come to practice for free and watch him shoot 40, 50 foul shots. They don’t even have to pay tickets. I’ll invite them all.”
Howard made 16 of his final 20 free throws, and so, the strategy did not work in basketball terms. It did, however, succeed in making Tuesday’s games one of the more painful games to watch in recent memory. The stubbornness of a team that was down 15 points with 2:06 remaining in the game to intentionally foul a player who has made 14 of his last 18 free throws was unconscionable.
It was a crime against the fans.
The NBA needs to reevaluate the rule if this type of occurrence becomes regular. Sure, it has happened in the past, and Howard and the Lakers were not surprised by the strategy. Still, this was one instance where it served absolutely no purpose other than force people to change the channel or leave the arena.
If he missed a few more free throws, the Lakers would still likely have walked away winners.
Sadly, Tuesday’s Lakers game in Orlando was not a game of basketball; it was a free throw shooting contest, and the fans lost.