Dwight Howard vows better touch

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Toward the end of shootaround Friday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash approached Dwight Howard and offered up a couple of tips on how to shoot free throws.

Though Howard is shooting just 46.9 percent from the foul line this season, while Nash is tied with Mark Price for the best free throw percentage in NBA history at 90.4 percent, the Lakers center said he's had enough of people giving him advice.

"Listen, he was just suggesting some things, but it's not something that we've already talked about or anybody else has suggested," Howard said. "My mind cannot get clouded with everybody telling me how to shoot a free throw. I just have to go up there and shoot it my way and not get caught up in what everybody else is saying, because that's when I miss."

Howard has missed a lot lately, as the Lakers have lost two recent games at least in part because of the opposition employing a "Hack-a-Howard" strategy by intentionally fouling the big man and sending him to the line. Howard was just 9-for-21 from the line in a 113-103 loss to the Orlando Magic and just 8-for-16 from the line in a 107-105 loss to the Houston Rockets.

Kobe Bryant said Howard's deficiency from the stripe can be blamed on how he was coached to play basketball from an early age.

"I think it all depends on how you're raised, how you're taught the game from when you were little," Bryant said. "I think that's why it's such a critical thing in how we develop our players growing up, whether it's AAU and all these other camps.

"I think they pretty much wanted (Howard) to play inside the paint his entire career, ever since he was 12 years old. They wanted him to dunk everything and finish everything at the rim. They didn't want him shooting it because he was bigger than everybody and as a consequence, they left out the shooting aspect of his game.

"If you contrast that with some of the European players growing up, they're taught at an early age how to play all aspects of the game -- from ball-handling to shooting. So I think it's really just about our system here in the States and how we teach kids how to perform."

Bryant did not believe that Howard's 58.4 career free throw percentage was a lost cause.

"I think it's just facing the issue and dealing with it and taking it on head first," Bryant said. "'This is something that I have to conquer. This is something that I have to master.' And I think he will."

Bryant cited former teammate Shaquille O'Neal as an example of how Howard can improve at the line if he makes it a priority.

"Shaq, he had a tough time at the free throw line, but he got to a place where the critical stretches of ballgames, he really knocked them down," Bryant said of O'Neal, who played a crucial role on four championship-winning teams in Los Angeles and Miami despite shooting just 52.7 percent from the free throw line for his career. "Maybe he was about 50 percent, but it seemed like in games where there were big ones, it seemed like he didn't miss them. He got to that place just by working. That really meant a lot to him and he took on that responsibility of having to make them."

Free throw shooting has plagued the Lakers, as they rank last in the league at 66.7 percent. The Oklahoma City Thunder, whom the Lakers play on Friday, rank first at 83.7 percent.

"I think it's taking the responsibility of when you're at the free throw line, 'I'm bearing the responsibility of my team over my shoulders at this moment,' and it's holding that significance when you step to the free throw line at the same time," Bryant said. "We've lost ballgames where we've missed 19, 20, 17 free throws and end up losing a game by five or six points. So, that's really shooting ourselves in the foot."