Mike D’Antoni’s taken same approach on intentional fouls toward Shaq, Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard downplays anything regarding Shaquille O’Neal.

Even if he has taken offense to O’Neal for publicly criticizing his game over the years, Howard has O’Neal to thank.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni instructed O’Neal in the 2007-08 season in Phoenix, receiving a harsh lesson on the perils of his foul shooting. In the 2008 NBA playoffs, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich repeated the so-called “Hack a Shaq” where O’Neal was intentionally sent to the free throw line in hopes he’d miss. The strategy worked.

Teams have adopted the same tactic on Howard in his eight NBA seasons, including his current one with the Lakers. In both cases, D’Antoni refused to take both O’Neal and Howard out of the game.

“With Dwight, you take him out, but we can’t stop anybody without him,” D’Antoni said. “You’re going to take a hard shot out there and then not have your defense set? At the end fo the day, they’ll make it and I have confidence in it.”

That hasn’t always happened.

Howard shot 57.4 percent from the line this season. In games against the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets, Howard went a combined 17 of 37 at the stripe. Yet, in the Lakers’ win March 12 over the Magic, Howard paid his former team back by hitting 25 of 39 free throws.

Either way, Howard said he doesn’t allow that element to affect the rest of his game.

“You don’t have to focus on free throws,” he said. “The biggest thing is you miss those shots, go make it up on defense and just be a little bit more assertive. That’s what I try to do for the most part is be active on the defensive end. It doesn’t matter how many times I go to the free throw line.”

O’Neal did the same thing.

Shaquille O’Neal posted similar numbers from the free-throw line in both the regular season (52.7 percent) and playoffs (50.4 percent) through his eight seasons with the Lakers. But he still dominated with his physical post play. But Howard downplayed whether he gleaned anything from how O’Neal compensated for his free-throw shooting struggles.

“I really don’t know. I didn’t pay attention to when Shaq played basketball,” Howard said. “That’s not the focus of our team of what Shaq did when he played.”

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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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