LOS ANGELES – Dwight Howard might not make his Los Angeles Lakers debut in the team's Oct. 30 season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks after all. Howard is now hopeful he can return from back surgery earlier than expected and possibly play in the preseason.
"Hopefully, I will be back for some preseason games," Howard said following the Lakers' first practice on Monday. "I think we are going to need it for chemistry and all that stuff."
When asked if his optimism was reason to think he would definitely play on opening night, Howard was more cautious with his words.
"All I know is we had a great practice today," he said. "I don't know the date when I will return. But I'm looking forward to tomorrow's practice to see how my body feels when I wake up. We can only go by time right now and how I feel after practice. We are not in a rush. These guys need me for the whole season."
Howard had been playing one-on-one games against assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Chuck Person prior to the start of training camp. Lakers coach Mike Brown said Howard took part in the majority of Tuesday's lengthy practice that lasted about four hours, but Howard was given a break during a drill to give his feet a rest. The Lakers engaged in light work on the Princeton offense with Howard taking part in each first-team exercise. Howard said he had no setbacks.
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Brown said he had no indication when Howard could participate in a five-on-five scrimmage for the first time or when he would make his Lakers' debut. Brown said those decisions will be made by the Lakers' training staff, including head physical therapist Judy Seto and athletic trainer Gary Vitti. Seto played a key role in helping Lakers guard Kobe Bryant overcome a finger injury two seasons ago. Howard last played in a game on April 7.
"If Judy wanted to walk on court in the middle of practice and pull Dwight off she could," Brown said.
The Lakers play their first preseason game Sunday against the Golden State Warriors in Fresno, Calif. Howard isn't expected to be in uniform. But even if Howard doesn't play in the preseason, the Lakers still have 23 practices scheduled before the start of the season, giving him and Steve Nash time to build chemistry with their new teammates.
"As long as he's in practice and able to go through things offensively, go through our system and stuff like that, I don't think it will be an issue," Bryant said.
Lakers assistant coach Eddie Jordan spent time at the end of practice working with the players on implementing the Princeton offense. The Lakers averaged 97.3 points per game last season, a drop of more than four points per game from what they averaged in the 2010-11 season while running Phil Jackson's triangle offense.
Bryant, who has met with Brown and Jordan about the offense, is excited about the change.
"The more talent you have, the more imperative it is to have an equal opportunity system where you let the flow of the game determine which shots come for me," Bryant said. "You just work to get the best shot possible and really just read the defense."
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