Howard struggling from free-throw line


Published: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

ORLANDO — An Orlando Magic offense already bereft of clutch scorers might be short another one down the stretch of close games.

Facts

Difficulties at the charity stripe

  • Dwight Howard has struggled with his free throws of late. Here's how he's fared in the first three months of the season:
5p6 BREAKOUT COLUMNTonight's matchupAT A GLANCE
  • Orlando at Atlanta, 7 p.m., Sun Sports
  • Dwight Howard might be the Magic's franchise center and one of the best young players in the NBA, but Orlando might have to think twice about throwing the ball to the 6-foot-11, 268-pounder because of his woes at the free-throw line.

    Howard's month-long slump at the line came to a head in Friday's 93-90 loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks. Not only did Howard miss nine of his 18 free-throw attempts, he connected on just two of eight tries in the fourth quarter. Four of those free throws could have given the Magic the lead in what eventually devolved into one of Orlando's worst losses of the season.

    Howard's misses Friday night came during a stretch in which the Magic went four minutes without a field goal. So the question Monday night, when the Magic face the Hawks again, is: Can they afford to give the ball to Howard with the game on the line?

    "(Howard's free throw problems) certainly have a bearing on what play calls you make down the stretch," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "But he has to be in those situations to overcome them."

    It is a dilemma that teams such as the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls often face when trying to figure out whether or not to play dominant big men Shaquille O'Neal and Ben Wallace down the stretch. Like Howard, both struggle at the free-throw line and usually have to either be left out of the offense or on the bench late in games.

    As with Howard's free-throw shooting, little has gone right of late for the reeling Magic (23-21). They have lost seven of their past eight games and they are just 10-17 since starting the season 13-4.

    The Magic are in the midst of a stretch of seven consecutive games against teams with losing records. The next chance to get on track comes tonight in Atlanta, a place where Orlando has lost four consecutive times.

    "We need one for our mental health more than anything," Hill said.

    After a strong start to the season, Howard's free-throw percentage has dipped to 62.2 percent following a bad month.

    "I work on them every day after practice and I just have to keep working on them," Howard said.

    He worked hard on his form over the summer, hoping to improve his stroke after shooting 67.1 percent as a rookie and 59.5 percent last season.

    He adopted a new form with a protracted follow-through and a snapped wrist. Howard quickly nicknamed his new form "Gooseneck" because of his arm and wrist's resemblance to a goose's extended neck. And he even took to screaming out the word during games as shots hit the net.

    His hard work was evident early in the season as he made 66.7 percent of his free throws in November and December. But things have been dramatically different in January.

    Howard was a big proponent of the new synthetic basketball introduced by the NBA this season, and it's no coincidence that his struggles have coincided with the league going back to the leather ball on Jan. 1. Howard claims the leather model is harder and more difficult for him to grip.

    Howard's teammates, coaches and general manager Otis Smith have tried to help him get a grip on his struggles of late.

    "He'll be all right. He's a pro, and he should feel down right now," Smith said. "I don't think you do anything different at the end of games. Dwight has to learn how to make free throws. In every other part of his game we are looking for growth and the biggest part is him making free throws. Regardless of the stage of the game, he's going to get fouled and have to make them."

    MonthGamesFree throwsPercentage November 16 92-138 66.7 December 16 70-105 66.7 January 12 60-114 52.6

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