It’s not about winning the battle, it’s about winning the war for Mike D’Antoni.
That’s why he hasn’t done what a lot of Lakers fans are calling for — sub in Jordan Hill for Dwight Howard when the other team starts hack-a-Dwight. Both the Magic and Rockets were able to make fourth quarter comebacks against the Lakers that started with hack-a-Dwight. Not only because he leaves half the points on the free throw line but also because it throws off the Lakers rhythm and their defense gets worse at the same time. The Lakers start to press and get flustered.
D’Antoni needs his best big man on the floor to win come late in the season and the playoffs, so he got a little heated when asked after the game why he doesn’t listen to what Lakers fans asking, why he doesn’t sit Howard when the hacking starts (via the Los Angeles Times):
“Because they have no clue what they’re talking about,” D’Antoni said. “It’s pretty simple. You don’t do that to a guy and he made his foul shots. He’s not the reason that our defense breaks down. He’s not the reason that stuff happens. He’s got to work through this.
“If you take him out now, then what are you going to do? Are you going to take him out all the time? You’ve got a player who’s going to be your franchise player, you don’t do that to him. And it’s not him that’s causing the problem.”
In the two games against Orlando and Houston, Howard has shot 50 percent from the line during the hack-a-Dwight strategy (12-of-24). The first reaction is that is too many points left on the table, and there is validity there. But Howard is in his ninth NBA season and is a career 58 percent free throw shooter — he’s worked on this for years and it’s not going to get a whole lot better.
And D’Antoni is right — the problem is when it happens the Lakers defense falls apart (they gave up 74 fourth quarter points in the last two games combined) and they start to press. They get out of the game plan and when that happens the lead evaporates — Kobe Bryant was scoring and distributing most of the game, but was 1-of-4 shooting after the hack-a-Dwight ended.
D’Antoni is right about this, too — he can’t go into the playoffs against the Spurs with Gregg Popovich knowing he can get Howard on the bench for five minutes of the fourth quarter by fouling him. If Popovich or any coach can get the Lakers best interior player off the floor a key stretch of the game they will. Without hesitation.
The problem is the Lakers continue to lose a lot of battles as they try to win the war, and they are now 8-10. More frightening for Lakers fans in the short term, the team is 1-5 on the road this season and six of the next seven are away from Staples Center.