Blazers, Stotts plan to stick to Hack-a-Howard strategy

By Fran Blinebury,

VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks after the Rockets’ practice on Monday

HOUSTON — This being the NBA playoffs, there were pre-game fireworks, flames roaring up almost to the ceiling and canned music cranked to absurd levels.

But by far the loudest sounds to come out of the Rockets’ 122-120 overtime loss to the Blazers in Game 1 were: Clank! Clank! Clank! Clank!

Yup, Dwight Howard shooting free throws.

His team down by nine points with 4 1/2 minutes left in regulation time, Blazers coach Terry Stotts needed a dramatic shift and there are few things fraught with more raw thrills than the sight of the eight-time All-Star at the foul line in the fourth quarter.

So one of the key subplots to watch as the series continues will be Stotts’ willingness to intentionally hack Howard and he says he won’t be shy.

“If I think it’s in our best interest to do it, we will,” he said. “I had no qualms about using it going into the game, and I feel the same way now.”

Stotts instructed his team to intentionally foul Howard on three consecutive possessions. Howard made the first two free throws to the howling delight of the Toyota Center throng. But then he missed four in a row as Portland went on a 7-0 run that turned around the game and could ultimately turn the series.

Howard was a 54.7 percent foul shooter during the regular season and made 26 of 40 (65 percent) in four games against the Blazers. He managed just 9 of 17 in Game 1.

“That changed (the game) somewhat,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the strategy. “We missed some free throws. They came just pushing it down and we didn’t defend…then we were kind of back on our heels. They pushed it up on us.”

More important, the Blazers pushed the Rockets over the edge.

Ten years into his career, free-throw woes remain an old, familiar tale with Howard.

The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, just named Coach of the Year for the third time, has often said he hates the “Hack-a-________” tactic and would be in favor of eliminating it with a rule change. But even Popovich readily employs it to help his team.

Stotts is not so dismissive and refuses to buy into the notion that fouling Howard (or any other inept foul shooter) somehow taints the game.

“I was thinking about this because I was kinda anticipating the question,” Stotts said. “There were over 1200 NBA games played this season. How many times was it used in over 1200 games? Ten or 20 times in over 1200 games, 48-minute games?

“So to change the rule for something that isn’t used that very much? I think it adds excitement to the game, to be honest. When he made his first two, the crowd erupted. It adds interest. It adds interest whether we’re going to foul him or not. It adds interest whether he’s going to make them or not.”

Howard at the foul line in the fourth quarter is like seeing a member of the Wallenda family on a tightrope, with so much hanging in the balance.

From Wilt Chamberlain to Shaquille O’Neal to Howard to any player who has ever stood there with his knees knocking, arm wobbling and tossing up bricks with a game on the line, it has always been a silly debate.

How is hacking Howard any different than intentionally walking Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera? And in the case of baseball, Cabrera doesn’t even get a chance to swing the bat. All Howard has to do is learn to make his free throws and everybody will leave him alone.

The fact is there are prime time players and those who say they are.

Watch Howard at the end of a Rockets’ practice. He’ll stand there and calmly stroke them in eight, nine, 10 in a row without a flinch.

Now watch him the next time the Blazers, or anybody else, puts him on the spot.

“I think it adds a little drama,” said Stotts with a grin.

The loudest noise in the room: Clank!

Sometimes you can hear a win drop.

VIDEO: Shaquille O’Neal and the Inside the NBA guys discuss the ‘Hack-a-Howard’ strategy


  1. Cal says:

    Blazer Fan here.

    I love it when any big man can work his way to 70-80% free throw level. With time and GOS, Dwight will strengthening this element of his game. The loss had much more to due with an offensive game plan that put the ball in the flopper’s hands and at the expense of points in the paint. Poor game planning and failing to adjust more than poor foul line performance is the reason for Houston loss in game one.

    Tonight Houston will come out with their hair on fire both in the paint and outside the three point line. If the Blazer’s get a good start and their big men stay out of foul trouble in the first half, we have a solid chance of taking game two. Going to be a great game ether way as Kevin McHale is a smart and will adjust to pull La Marcus points back to 25-30 range.

  2. HEATSWAG says:

    Dwight Howard, needs to come down to South beach to work on free throws with our King James and get 8 rings and achieve greatness.

  3. The Voice In The Distance says:

    It’s strange with Dwight Howard to think he shot 67% from the free throw line in his rookie year, but has never shot above 60% since. He has people at the Rockets that can help him improve e.g Kevin McHale shot 80% + for most of the second half of his career. I don’t enjoy the hack tactic but you can’t go making a rule to stop it and protecting poor abilities. The coaches should be making these players improve after all free throw shooting is such a basic skill.

  4. brian says:

    I am so tired of the Rockets. Patrick Beverley is the lovechild of Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest. James Harden has a great jumpshot, but is ruining his legacy with all the flopping, and Dwight Howard may be the most underrated all star to play the game. Hopefully the Blazers put them away, and we can be done with their nonsense this season.

  5. LawboyErn says:

    Although I am a huge Rockets fan and was a bit disappointed by the Rockets loss partly due to the Hack-a-Howard strategy I don’t think it was unfair for the Blazers to use it. After all, the Hack-a-_____ strategy is available to all teams to use. If Howard’s imposing figure and physical strength makes him an excellent defender/rebounder but affects his shooting then we got to take the good and the bad. It’s all up to Howard to improve his free throws or McHale to use a different line-up when the strategy is imposed.

  6. Jason says:

    If you get paid millions a year just to play basketball, the least you can do is find a way to be fundamentally consistent. I mean there is absolutely no reason why any player should be shooting under 50%, Shaq struggled but he could buckle down and nail them in most big games. If it works for the other team and gets them the win, who can blame them? I would do it, and so would you if the tables were turned.

  7. Matt says:

    Houston plays no defense, and neither do we. So what’s the problem with trying to get the upper hand? It’s the freaking playoffs, this basketball means a lot.

  8. Hamish says:

    The Blazers worked hard on their free throw shooting and it shows given most of the team can shoot at 80% – so why not make other teams work hard on their free throw shooting?
    If a rule change is implemented what stops you saying “we were just trying to stop the clock so we had more time to make a come back” – it’ll be too hard to differentiate.
    Make him earn his millions!

  9. Subchief Yocka says:

    How is that even conceivable to fabricate a rule to help bad free throw shooters!? How about lowering the boom a little for caucasians?!

  10. Mikey says:

    I don’t like it either, but it’s all fair game. When I saw the Clippers play at Houston this last month, Kevin McHale did the “Hack-a-DeAndre Jordan” tactic and made him go to the free-throw line many many times. DeAndre Jordan made most of the free-throws so it kinda backfired. But yeah, every player needs to be ready all the time!!

  11. john says:

    why not mchale have howard inbound the ball and let him stay out and wait at the opponents baseline area for defense? they can just play 4 on 4 offense and makes it easier for harden or lin to penetrate to the basket. i don’t think there’s any rule prohibiting a player from staying outside the court.

  12. okc2014 says:

    I think the Hack a Howard strategy is mean spirited. You should not be panicking Rockets fans. Everything will be just fine. In this series.

  13. john says:

    it’s just an ugly strategy. fans didn’t come to watch free throw shooting. it wasn’t the downfall of the rockets though in game 1. it’s coach mchale’s inability to adjust to in-game situations. parsons guarding aldrige? that’s just not right. also, Lin was hot the last minute of the game yet he chose to stick to harden whose 8 of 28. and oh, harden choked. hopefully, they’ll come back and howard should practice, practice, practice his free throws.

  14. Tyrone says:

    I’m sure Dwight would love it if they changed the rule, because then he doesn’t have to improve. I say make him improve….he gets paid millions of dollars and should be able to find a way to get better or face the consequences, which is hurting his team.

  15. Robert says:

    I think it is fair. Any game is about attacking and exploiting the opponent’s weak points. In the name of fairness, no rule should be added to protect weakness.

    On second thought, perhaps we can give an extra free throw and call it even…;)

  16. Jay says:

    The Rockets’ strategy of 3’s and high percentage shots is fatally flawed in that they can’t consistently hit their free throws. In the playoffs, when you go in the lane for those high percentage shots (instead of mid range jumpers) there WILL be contact. If you have poor free throw shooters like D12, Fransisco Garcia, and Omer Asik (to name a few) then you are ultimately doomed to fail.

    We need a new strategy to get to the Finals.

  17. bucksfan1992 says:

    I think that one day Dwight Howard will be at least an 85% free throw shooter. He’s just that good at the free throw line.

  18. MT says:

    Considering that Harden, Parsons, Lin and Beverley constantly try to bait the refs into a foul call with their flopping tactics, it makes more sense to just foul Dwight “57%” Howard.

  19. gatez says:

    I agree it more interest to the game and is only employed rarely anyways. Dwight just has to knock his freethrows to end the hack a whoever. Watching Dwight step up to the line with nervousness makes it interesting to see if he can overcome it or not. Rules are fine and should not be changed to accomodate a handful of players in the nba. Learn to make your free throws. Plus it will only add more to suspect officiating since it may prove to be difficult to determine whether or not a foul was intentional or not.