Lakers downplay Dwight Howard’s free throw struggles against Denver

DENVER — The storyline has become just as tiring as Dwight Howard’s pending free agency.

He may have avoided the scrutiny surrounding his season-wide poor free-throw shooting for a while. But it reemerged again in the Lakers’ 119-108 loss Monday to the Denver Nuggets where Howard went 3 of 14 from the foul line.

That mark tied his worst of the season when he’s taken at least 10 attempts. Howard also shot 3 of 14 in the season opener against Dallas. In related news, the Lakers lost that game too.

“I can’t get down on myself,” Howard said. “For the most part, the same form and everything was straight. Some were just long. I’ve just got to continue to practice and they’ll start falling. But I’m not going to get discouraged. I’m going to beat this.”

The Lakers insist Howard makes 75-80 percent of his free throws in practice. That’s a much different element, though. Fewer people are watching. There’s little crowd noise. In Denver’s case, Howard also had the high altitude to deal with while standing at the charity stripe.

The Lakers didn’t fare much better, going 14 of 31 as a team (45 percent).

“I’m not going to dwell on it much just because nobody steps up there and wants to miss it,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If you miss 17 foul shots and get beat by 11, you can kind of do the math.”

Yet, Howard’s free throw issues have hardly evolved.

He made three late game free throws in the Lakers’ win Sunday over Dallas. But Howard still has shot only 48.5 percent of his foul shots this season. He’s averaged a 58.1 percent clip in his career. The Lakers (28-30) lossed nine games this season where Howard’s missed free throws tied or exceeded the point differential.

But the Lakers remain hesitant in criticizing that ongoing weakness.

“I don’t want to compound it. [Howard] had a tough night at the free-throw line,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “He’s been shooting the ball pretty well recently. It was like an off shooting night.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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