The Los Angeles Lakers added perhaps the league's best center during the offseason when they acquired Dwight Howard, but the big man also brought his issues at the free throw line with him.
Howard and the Lakers try to avoid a third straight setback on Wednesday evening as they visit the New Orleans Hornets in the second of back-to-back games.
The 26-year-old Howard has been a force in the NBA since the Orlando Magic took him first overall in the 2004 draft. He is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and has been selected to six All-Star Games while averaging 18.4 points and 13.0 rebounds a game in his career.
However, the center is just a lifetime 58.4 shooter from the free throw line, including just 46.8 percent this season. His struggles at the charity stripe came back to hurt the Lakers in a 107-105 setback at the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.
Los Angeles led by as many as 17 points and were up 13 with 9 1/2 minutes to play before Houston began a game-winning comeback. The Lakers' struggled at the line during the Rockets' run, hitting just 7-of-13 foul shots in the fourth. Howard went 5-of-10 in the frame and was 8-of-16 from the foul line in the game, ending with 16 points and 12 rebounds in the Lakers' second straight loss and fifth in seven games.
"That's just a strategy that teams are employing and we have to figure out the best strategy to defend it," the Lakers' Kobe Bryant said about teams fouling Howard. "We've talked about it a little bit. He just has to keep working at it all the time and keep practicing and doing it over and over until he turns it into a strength."
Bryant dropped in 39 points for Los Angeles, which played without Pau Gasol due to knee tendinitis. He joined guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake on the sidelines.
Antawn Jamison started in place of Gasol and had 15 points with nine rebounds.
The Lakers hope that their past success versus the Hornets will factor into Wednesday's outcome. Los Angeles swept the three-game series last regular season and has won seven straight and 13 of the past 15 meetings overall. That includes a win in six of the last seven in New Orleans.
The Hornets, who continue to play without rookie forward Anthony Davis (left ankle) and guard Eric Gordon (right knee), snapped a two-game slide with Monday's 102-81 victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks.
Ryan Anderson had a team-high 22 points with seven rebounds, while Robin Lopez matched a season high with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Jason Smith added 12 points and Greivis Vasquez had 11 with nine assists in just New Orleans' second victory in 11 games.
New Orleans shot an efficient 52.4 percent from the field and hit all 11 of its free throw attempts.
"When we defend like that, it gives us a chance to shoot easy buckets and that is how you get close to 50 percent," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "You're getting a lot of layups. You can't always trust your jump shot in the NBA with the travel and wear and tear, but if you can get layups it makes everything easier."
New Orleans plays the fourth contest of a five-game homestand that ends on Friday versus Memphis.