Spurs to exploit Howard’s free throw struggles

If there’s one thing we know about San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, it’s that all he cares about is winning, no matter how pretty or ugly he has to do it.

And that includes implementing “Hack-a-Howard.”

Popovich will find himself in several spots to utilize this tactic when the Spurs open their first round playoff matchup Sunday against Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers.

And if the Spurs do start to hack, Howard said he will be ready.

“If they’re going to do that the whole series, God bless them,” Howard said, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “There’s nothing I can do about it but go up there and shoot the free throws. Even if I make them, they’re still going to do it. So, that’s not my concern”

When the Spurs played the Lakers last week at the Staples Center, Popovich went to the “Hack-a-Howard” early, intentionally fouling the center for the first time with 2:25 left in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs went on to foul Howard five more times in the final minute of the quarter and the strategy paid off. Howard missed six of those 10 free throws.

The Lakers had to respond by keeping Howard out the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter.

“My concern is what I can control on the defensive end and then on the offensive end, just dominate. If they foul me, they foul me,” Howard said when asked about his thoughts if the Spurs start fouling again. “We’re going to make them pay.”

Simply put, Howard was miserable from the foul line this season, where he shot 49.2% on the season. For the season, Howard was only 8 of 17 from the free throw line against the Spurs.