LAS VEGAS — Don’t arrive to Staples Center on Sunday expecting Dwight Howard to storm out of the tunnel wearing a Laker uniform.
It may happen. But it might not.
Despite a Yahoo! Sports report indicating he’s planning to make his Laker debut Sunday when the Lakers host the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center, Coach Mike Brown sounded less than definitive about whether Howard will recover enough from back surgery to play .
“If he practices tomorrow and our medical people at the end of practice say he can play, he’s going to play,” Brown said following the Lakers’ shootaround Friday at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, where they will play the Sacramento Kings tonight in their fifth preseason game. “People keep asking me and that’s the answer that I’ve given. But people have taken that answer and assume Dwight’s playing. The funny thing about it is people that are printing that, there is a chance he may not play Sunday.”
The Lakers have penciled Howard out for Friday’s game against the Sacramento.. Howard also didn’t participate in Friday’s morning shootaround. Although it was mostly a walk through, Brown said the session included defensive drills that involved moving.
Should Howard practice on Saturday, Brown said the training staff will either tell him about his availability following the session or after Sunday’s morning shootaround. Howard, who didn’t speak to reporters after Friday’s morning shootaround, has reported no pain in his back and has said he’s mostly centered on improving his conditioning to prevent future injuries. Regardless, Brown said he’s avoided peppering Lakers trainer Gary Vitti about what Howard needs to accomplish out of respect for his position.
“I don’t see a point in bothering Gary. He has a job to do.,” Brown said. “My job is to coach the guys that I have available and you tell me when you’re going to clear him. Then I’ll add him to the game plan. Just because I’m asking him, that’s going to speed up Gary, saying, ‘Yes he can play,’ especially for a preseason game.
The Lakers cleared Howard last week for full-court five-on-five contact drills and have reported no physical setbacks. To the practice time open to the media, Howard has performed a series of dunks, hook shots, jumpers and blocks that’s cemented him as the NBA’s best center. He’s often working out with Lakers assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Chuck Person.
In other words, Howard looks much better than when he had back surgery in April.
“When I watch him in practice … he’s getting hammer and he’s able to sustain it,” Brown said. “I see he can play. I’m excited and he’s looking good out there,” Brown said. “I’m just waiting for the medical people to clear him.”
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Will Dwight Howard make his Lakers debut on Sunday?