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Lakers at a loss over poor free-throw shooting

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sat on the bench in a beige blazer Friday night counting missed free throws.

That isn't light work when it comes to the Lakers on any night, but Friday was especially taxing. The Lakers made only two of 14 free throws. That percentage — 14.3% — was the lowest in NBA history with a minimum of 10 attempts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. With each miss he counted Caldwell-Pope shook his head.

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"Never seen that happen," he said. "At least half, you get seven for 14. That was bad to watch. Thankfully we got the win. Could've been an easy blowout. Twelve points we left on the board."

Caldwell-Pope, who was out because of an Achilles' tendon injury, might have helped. He is the Lakers' best free-throw shooter. But even he has fallen victim to a bizarre team trend: Nearly all of them are shooting free throws worse than they ever have, baffling players and coaches.

To break them out their rut, Lakers coach Luke Walton is considering some techniques he learned from former coach Phil Jackson.

"It is very confusing," Walton said. "Free throws are more mental than anything. We talk about it, we work on it. Then I try to not talk about it, let it just happen naturally. I think we got up over 70 [%] as a team before last night but it kills us.

"We have another meditation scheduled on the books for when we get back from this road trip. I was thinking about having [the instructor] try to focus on some sort of relaxing mechanism while you step up to the line."

Calming the mind is something in which Walton strongly believes. Meditation wasn't always part of his routine, but it became a bigger part of life when he played for Jackson.

The Lakers had a meditation session last month but it didn't focus specifically on free-throw shooting. Not all of the players took to it, but they all agree the issue is mental. Walton noted they are all capable free-throw shooters.

"Everybody's going up to the line and thinking about too much, not thinking about making a free throw," said Caldwell-Pope, adding that he was open to the idea that meditation might help. "I think that can help. Before you go out don't think about anything but making the free throw. I think there's a lot of things that goes into being a great free-throw shooter."

Before Friday's performance, the Lakers' percentage was almost respectable, but they were back down to 68.8% after the game. As of Saturday morning that ranked as the 21st-worst percentage in the NBA since the merger of the ABA in 1976. What's odd about the Lakers' struggles is that they don't have one particular player that gets picked on by opponents (which is a trend among historically bad free-throw shooting teams).

Most of the teams that rank among the worst free-throw shooting units since the merger have identifiable culprits such as Dwight Howard, Shaquille O'Neal or Andre Drummond.

Lakers teams that included O'Neal — who was subjected to the Hack-a Shaq method — ranked 11th, 16th and 17th worst. They won a championship in one of those seasons, 2000-01, when they collectively made only 68.3% of their free throws (O'Neal was at 51.3%).

Caldwell-Pope and Drummond were teammates on a Pistons squad that made only 66.8% of its free throws, the fourth-worst percentage of any team since the merger.

Caldwell-Pope was the best free-throw shooter on that team, making 80% that year. He is the Lakers' best at the line this season at 76.5%, slightly below his 78.2% career average. Jordan Clarkson has an 80.1% career average but is making 75.8% this year. Clarkson was the only player to make a free throw Friday.

"Oh, [expletive]," Clarkson said when he heard that after the game.

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Lonzo Ball, who was never a great free-throw shooter, shot 67.3% in college. In the NBA, he's at 48%. Brook Lopez is shooting 8.4% worse than he did in his career and even airballed a pair of free throws in Cleveland. Julius Randle is shooting 2.8% worse than his career average.

One exception is Kyle Kuzma, who made 63.3% of his free throws in college but is making 72% this season.

"I am shooting the worst that I have in like three years," Nance said. "It is not saying much but it is not for a lack of practice. I am in here shooting free throws every single day. I don't know what it is. Probably got some kind of mental block as a team going on. The more we play, the more we get experience, the more times we get fouled, the more times we get to the line, we will break through."

Etc.

Ball, who is dealing with a knee sprain, has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the New York Knicks. He began treadmill work on Saturday while the Lakers went through a shootaround. … Brandon Ingram (ankle) and Caldwell-Pope (Achilles) are both questionable for the game.

UP NEXT

VS. KNICKS

When: 12:30 p.m. Sunday

On Air: TV – Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio – 710, 1330

Update: The Knicks rallied for a 117-115 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday. They are 21-25 and have won only three of their last 10 games.

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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