Free throws are Dwight Howard’s kryptonite. Before he can be great, he’ll have to figure out how to overcome this, so that what happened in Game Four doesn’t happen again.
"I been working on my free throws, they just wasn’t falling tonight. There’s no need to get down on myself."
I’m going to have to disagree with Dwight. Respectfully, of course. He shouldn’t do so right at this moment since there are still games to be played, but after the Lakers have wrapped up this series (which they will do; 3-1 leads do not typically go away) he should take some time and reflect on this game. Think about those free throws and how much it would have meant if he had hit them.
Players usually are asked to have short memories, to forget their failures so that their confidence will not be shaken when they are called upon to perform at their highest level. There’s some usefulness in this approach. It works. But I believe there is a place for failure in the minds of players. Remember what you did wrong, what you could have done better and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I’m not blaming Howard for the Magic’s Game Four loss. He wasn’t even the only person who missed crucial free throws and he wasn’t a part of some of the defensive breakdowns. But if this is his team, if he is truly the league’s next great big man, then this is a part of his game that he must address. Until he does, it will be a weakness that can be exploited. There is a reason that Howard led the league in free throw attempts per game. Why allow such a physical to dunk on you when you can make him earn those points ten feet away from the basket?
There was a big deal made earlier in the playoffs when Howard complained about the number of shots he got in a game. Other analysts have pointed to his decreased fourth quarter touches and his absence from some late-game situations. It has been speculated that the reasoning behind these things could be Howard subpar charity work. We’re not in the mind of his teammates and coaches, but the fact that this can be speculated upon is a problem.
Your best players have to produce when it matters most. Howard’s predecessor, Shaquille O’Neal, has always been a poor shooter. But, as he’ll tell you if you give them the chance, he made them when it counted. And this is mostly true. There were big games when O’Neal made the Hack-a-Shaq philosophy look silly. At the rate that the new Superman is going, how long will it be before we start seeing Hack-a-Howard?
Dwight Howard and all of his Orlando teammates should continue to play hard, despite being one loss away from elimination. Even though they face tall odds, they should learn from this situation so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes. A more experienced team might be on the positive side of 3-1 right now instead of being down. If so, we would be on the verge of crowning the Magic 2009 NBA Champions instead of Kobe Bryant and his Lakers.
Again, Dwight, I ask you to get down on yourself about those free throws. Remember those misses. Practice to correct them. Eliminate that weakness. Come back a better player because of what you’ve been through. And perhaps next year– or some other time in the future– you can position yourself to be hoisting that championship trophy.
And work on some post moves while you’re at it. I’m just saying…