Basketball played at its highest level is a chess match, a battle of wits, a meeting of the minds. Well, at least until it comes time for Dwight Howard to shoot free throws in the fourth quarter, at which point the grand affair deteriorates into a ragtag game of capture the flag.
The "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy is nothing new, but Howard added a twist this time around by actively running away from the Lakers who were trying to foul him as if he were engaged in schoolyard horseplay. With a little more than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Howard first dodged Chris Kaman in the backcourt before sprinting into the frontcourt and trying to spin away from Jodie Meeks. His efforts bought him a few seconds, but nothing more, as he was eventually sent to the foul line yet again. With Houston holding a six-point lead at the time, Howard was all smiles, but his happiness would prove to be short-lived. The Lakers closed on an 8-1 run to claim a dramatic 99-98 road victory.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni made his strategy clear throughout the fourth quarter: Howard, his former player, was going to need to put the game away at the charity stripe. D'Antoni employed the "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy on the career 58-percent free-throw shooter a total of five times between the four-minute mark and the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter. The Lakers fouled Howard again with 53 seconds remaining. All told, he was 5-for-12 from the line in the fourth quarter and 5-for-16 from the line for the game.
Howard finished with 15 points (on 5-of-10 shooting) and 14 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to clinch the victory in his first game against his former team, as Steve Blake knocked down the game-winning three-pointer over Howard with 1.3 seconds remaining.
Meeks paced the Lakers with a team-high 18 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) off the bench. Blake finished with 14 points (on 5-of-10 shooting), three rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes.
L.A. improved to 3-3 with the win. Houston dropped to 4-2 with the loss.