EL SEGUNDO — Time and time again, opposing teams mock Dwight Howard’s poor free throw shooting.
Some coaches publicly tout the so-called “Hack a Howard” strategy, that employs intentionally fouling him so he goes to the free throw line. Then their players execute it.
But no one sounded bolder about the tactic than Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who suggested on 710 ESPN that the Lakers (12-14) meeting Saturday against the Warriors (16-9) will feature Howard going to the foul line in heavy doses.
“If there’s anybody in this league that does not shoot free throws at a high level, if they’re on the floor, I, as a coach, will every single time entertain fouling,” Jackson said. “That’s just the right move to make as a coach. Whether it’s Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, it doesn’t matter whoever it is. If that opportunity presents itself, I’m going to entertain it and more than likely do it. Now, if you make the shots, it will make me adjust, but I’m going with what the data says in front of me.”
Jackson backed up those words with strong actions last season.
The Warriors employed that tactic to the extreme when Howard played for the Orlando Magic, resulting in a 21-of-39 mark at the stripe. With Howard scoring 43 points, SB Nation’s Tom Ziller explained how that strategy ultimately backfired.
“If they want to foul him, foul him,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s been shooting really well. So I’m pretty confident we’ll be okay.”
That didn’t happen earlier in the season.
The Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic employed the strategy earlier this season with great success, but Howard sounded nonchalant about the continued approach.
“That’s fine. I’ve been working on my free throws,” Howard said. “So if it happens, I’ll be ready. Then we’ll make them pay.”
Howard’s confidence goes beyond putting on a strong front.
He has shot 63.8 percent from the line in the last four games, a relative improvement on his career 57.7 percent mark. Howard attributed some of the improvement by changing his craft. He said he has taken a step back from the foul line because he sensed many of his attempts hit off the back rim.
Howard routinely ends practicing working on his free throws with assistant coach Chuck Person. Howard also has vowed not to overthink when he’s not at the line.
“I’m not really focused on what teams are trying to do to stop me or stop this team from winning,” Howard said. “We’re going to find ways to win. We’ll continue to get better as a team. If they want to foul me, I’ll step up and hit those free throws. They’re going to pay for it.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter.