After building up an early 19-point lead Thursday night against the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves on the ropes down the stretch. The momentum had clearly swung in the Rockets' favor, and James Harden was in takeover mode, reaching the 35-point mark on a three-pointer with just under five minutes to go.
To stem the tide and keep the ball out of Harden's hands, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni decided to muck up the game and use a strategy that had been used against him the year before: Hack-A-Dwight.
At first, Dwight Howard made his former team pay by knocking down 4-of-6 from the line. However, Howard then went on to miss five of his next six attempts from the charity stripe, allowing the Lakers to get back in the game. Ultimately, Steve Blake buried a three with 1.3 seconds left to give the Lakers a stunning 99-98 victory in Houston.
Afterward, Harden admitted to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports that the Hack-A-Dwight took him out of his rhythm:
"I was in a rhythm and they started fouling Dwight," Harden said. "It kind of slows us down. It slows our pace down and what we like to do. Good coaching."
Harden didn't score a single point once Hack-A-Dwight began, finishing the game by missing three straight shots. Whether or not this will be a point of contentiousness down the road remains to be seen, but Harden will likely have to get used to that type of strategy unless Howard can knock down free throws at a better rate. Other coaches are sure to follow the lead of D'Antoni, who said he'd "rather have Dwight finishing it up than Harden."
Howard finished the game a woeful 5-of-16 from the free throw line. As much success as Howard has allegedly had on free throws in practice, he just can't consistently find his stroke during games. At this point, there's not much more Howard can do besides continue putting in the work and hoping the in-game performance improves.