- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Watching Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson employ his game strategy against Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard on Saturday could leave Lakers fans wanting to scream, "Momma, there goes that Hack-a-Howard," to borrow a phrase from Jackson's announcing days.
Jackson, who helped Lakers center Dwight Howard set an all-time single game NBA record for free-throw attempts last season when he paraded him to the foul line and Howard went 21-for-39 en route to 43 points in an Orlando Magic win over the Warriors, said he'll gladly do it all over again.
"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 told ESPNLA's 710 Radio's "L.A. Now" show with Mark Willard and Mychal Thompson on Friday. "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."
The data would actually suggest that the move backfired on Jackson.
According to SB Nation's Tom Ziller, Howard actually scored at a higher rate per possession that game when he was being intentionally fouled than when he was simply defended and allowed to operate offensively without being granted an automatic whistle.
Howard, who saw two late Lakers leads slip away in the fourth quarter this season when Orlando and Houston employed the Hack-a-Howard strategy, welcomed the challenge again.
"That's fine with me, that's fine," Howard said. "I've been really working on my free throws so if it happens, I'll be ready and make him pay."
Since Howard bottomed out with that 9-for-21 showing against the Magic, the nine-year veteran has slowly but surely improved from the line. In his last nine games, Howard is shooting 48-for-80 from the foul line (60 percent), which is above both his season average of 50.6 percent as well as his 58.4 percent career mark. During that stretch, Howard went 6-for-8 from the line against Charlotte, 3-for-3 against Philadelphia, 4-for-6 against New York and 5-for-7 against Oklahoma City.
"I've just been practicing a lot, continuing to get in the gym and work on it," Howard said. "I'm just going to trust my shot. I did take a step back from the line because a lot of my balls [were] going long, but they were straight. So, it's a process. I'm not really focusing on what teams are trying to do to stop me or stop this team from winning.
"We're going to continue to find ways to win. We'll continue to get better as a team, and if they want to foul me, I believe that I will step up there and hit those free throws and they're going to pay for it."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has noticed Howard's improvement as well.
"If they want to foul him, foul him," D'Antoni said. "He's been shooting it really well. I'm pretty confident he'll be OK."
Added Howard: "It's been a process, and during that process, I did miss a lot of free throws, but I'm happy that I'm going through this process. It's making me stronger. I have total confidence now that if I step up to the line, I'm going to make them."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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