Mike Brown embracing challenges

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Try as he might, Dwight Howard just can't seem to shake the Shaquille O'Neal connections.

After Howard shot a feeble 3 of 14 from the free throw line in the Los Angeles Lakers' 99-91 season-opening loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, at least one Lakers opponent already was thinking about sending Howard to the line on purpose.

Forget Hack-a-Shaq. Now it's Hack-a-Howard.

Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters at Wednesday's shootaround that Howard would be making return trips to the not-so-charitable stripe during Wednesday night's game, according to The Columbian.

Lakers coach Mike Brown, who said prior to Tuesday's loss that he likes his team to face adversity because "we may get knocked on the head and realize that we're not world-beaters yet," said a parade to the line could be good for Howard.

"I would let him work through it," Brown said. "Obviously, there might be a point and time if we felt we were going to win or lose, I might make a change, but I think it would be great. I hope they do do that because it will help us as a team prepare for later on. It will help Dwight prepare for later on if we're in a playoff series and somebody starts to Hack-a-Dwight."

Howard showed considerable improvement from the line in Wednesday's 116-106 loss to Portland, hitting 15 of 19 attempts (78.9 percent).

"Do I get my Halloween candy? I made my free throws," Howard jokingly asked a Lakers staffer in the locker room after the game.

"(Tuesday) I was very anxious at the line. I wanted to make them so bad," Howard said. "Instead of just sticking with the process that we've been doing every day in practice -- after practice and before -- and (Wednesday) one of the fans said something and I just kept thinking about it the whole time at the line. He was just saying the same thing the coaches have been saying -- just elbow up and follow through. So I just tried to remember that the whole time."

Stotts said the bevy of attempts Howard got against the Blazers was not intentional on his team's part.

"He earned every foul he got," Stotts told reporters. "It wasn't 'Hack-a-Dwight' or anything like that. It was he got the ball in the paint. He got the ball deep and we fouled him. It was kind of the game plan: If he gets it that deep, it's better to foul him. And he made his free throws, so hat's off to him."

Stotts would not have been the first coach to employ the strategy on Howard. Last season, Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson ordered his players to repeatedly foul the All-Star center. Howard was 21-of-37 from the free throw line -- setting an NBA record for attempts in a game -- in the Orlando Magic's win.

Howard is a career 58.8 percent free throw shooter and is coming off last season's career-low 49.1 percent. He was an underwhelming 6-of-12 on free throws in two preseason games.

Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person, known as "The Rifleman" for his sharpshooting ability in his playing days, has been assigned to work with Howard on improving his form. Brown said Howard has shot better than 80 percent on free throws when the team has charted his attempts in practice.

Brown likened Howard's performance against the Mavs to a student failing a quiz early in the school year.

"If he aces the rest of his quizzes, then it will all balance out to about 75 percent and he'll pass the test," Brown said.

While the Lakers could deal with a Hack-a-Howard situation in the future, they're already contending with criticism that the Lakers' offense has a Lack-of-Nash, as in Steve Nash.

TNT analyst Charles Barkley has been one of the most vocal detractors of the new Princeton-style offense the Lakers are trying to run.

"Mike Brown got to nix that Princeton thing, let Steve Nash push the ball," Barkley said during Tuesday's broadcast.

Nash had just seven points and four assists against Dallas. The numbers were an extension of a lackluster preseason, when the former two-time MVP averaged just 5.8 points and 4.3 assists per game.

During the preseason, Barkley told reporters on a conference call, "I've always said I want my accountants from Princeton, not my offense." Brown told reporters before the Lakers played the Blazers on Wednesday that Barkley and his broadcast partners are misinformed about Nash's freedom in the offense.

"The first thing is, with our offense, every time down the floor -- and if they want to, they can call up Steve Nash and ask him -- Steve Nash has the right to play pick-and-roll if he wants to," Brown said. "(Nash) doesn't feel like he's as burdened because he doesn't have to make every play for everybody all the time with what we're trying to do. He can give it up and still have a chance to get it back. So, he said that he feels as fresh as he ever felt in his career because he doesn't feel the pressure of making every single play."

Brown said that he and Nash are in agreement the team will be better off in the long run mastering the new offense, even if it's ugly at first, than just reverting to Nash taking control and initiating everything.

"We could do it now," Brown said. "We could spread the floor and play pick-and-roll all the time. We can have different types of play calls that are pick-and-roll and Steve said we'll score. And he said, but, A) It will wear him out and B) It will make him one dimensional so when we play the good teams, they'll figure out that one thing we're good at and they'll take that away. Then when we're in seven-game playoff series, for sure the later you get in the playoffs, they'll be able to take us out of our offense because we'll be so one dimensional. What we're trying to do is we're trying to eliminate that and try to be hard to guard because it's a read-based offense."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.