Dwight Howard will play vs. Sacramento

After six months of back rehab and endless questioning about his return, Dwight Howard will make his Laker debut tonight when the team hosts the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.

Lakers Coach Mike Brown said he doesn’t have any minute restrictions on the six-time All-Star. He also indicated that, barring any further setbacks, Howard will play in the Lakers’ last two preseason games, including Wednesday against the Clippers at Staples Center and Thursday against Sacramento on Thursday.

“I thought he could’ve played from my knowledge and experience the beginning of training camp,” Brown said. “He played well and participated in everything we have done for a while. He has been in most five-on-five stuff and so forth. But it’s not completely my call.”

The Lakers and Howard remained non-commital about his return even after Sunday’s morning shootaround. But Howard received medical clearance after going through the walk-through without any setbacks.

The Lakers could use Howard’s presence for reasons beyond the team’s 0-5 preseason start, becoming the only NBA team without a win. Brown also had hoped to play his starters the team’s last three preseason games that would be more reflective of what they’d need in the regular season.

Howard declined to speak to reporters before the game. But he indicated recently that he might be nervous.

“It’ll be the first time I’ve played basketball in a long time so I’ll probably be a little emotional,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t happen that way, where I get out there and start crying.”

As Howard sat on a courtside chair an hour before tipoff, Lakers assistant coach Darvin Ham jokingly encouraged him to dunk the ball as hard as he can. He went through his usual pre-game warmups where he worked on a series of post-moves with Ham and assistant coach Chuck Person. As he ran through the entrance tunnel, plenty of Laker fans shouted toward him.

“Welcome to L.A.!” many of them said.

“He looks good in practice,” Brown said. “You would think he looks back out on the floor, but you never know.”

The Lakers will soon find out.

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Dwight Howard game-time decision vs. Sacramento

The wait continues.

Even after the Lakers’ morning shootaround on Sunday, the team still doesn’t know if Dwight Howard will make his Lakers debut tonight when they host the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.

Howard hardly sounded annoyed by the never-ending question he’s fielded as he’s rehabbed his surgically repaired back. He imitated Lakers assistant Chuck Person when relaying his latest playing status.

“It’s a game-time decision,” Howard said after participating in all of Sunday’s 90-minute morning shootaround without any limitations. “That means you have to wait until the game starts. If you can see him warming up, it means a decision has been made.”

That never-ending uncertainty only fielded more questions.

What if Howard isn’t warming up?

“If you don’t see him warming up, the decision was he was not playing,” Howard said, maintaining his Person imitation.

What about the Laker fans who are debating whether to buy tickets for tonight’s game?

“They should buy the ticket because the Lakers are playing tonight,” Howard said.”That’s why they should buy the ticket.”

But what about for fans who are weighing the Lakers-Kings game versus seeing Game 6 of the National League Championship series between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Or how about for the conflicted fans who want to see if it’s worth seeing the Lakers without Howard over watching Sunday Night Football between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals?

“The better game is tomorrow right?” Howard said, referring to the Detroit Lions-Chicago Bears matchup. “That means you have to wait until the game.”

Did Howard at least have any good dreams about possibly playing tonight?

“Maybe. I had a dream that one day…” Howard said, trailing off as he struggled reciting Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

If Howard has any assumption he’s not playing, the Lakers center at least masked his disappointment well. Throughout his brief interview, Howard made various facial expressions to Person, Coach Mike Brown, Metta World Peace and assistant Eddie Jordan. After working on free-throw shooting with Person, Howard ended his workout challenging the former NBA sharpshooter to touch the rim. Howard ended his brief interview session widening his jaw and showing off his teeth, a habit Brown does frequently.

This might sound silly over all the attention surrounding Howard’s possible return, for a preseason game no less.

“I know they want to see him play some games,” Brown said. “I’d love for him to play some games. But if he doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world.”

After tonight’s game, the Lakers only have two remaining preseason contests. They host the Clippers Wednesday at Staples Center and then play the Kings Thursday at San Diego. Would Brown feel hesitant in playing Howard in a back-to-back?

“To me, it’s not a concern because I don’t have to clear him,” Brown said. “Once he gets cleared, for me as a head coach, back-to-back and six days in a row is not a concern for me as long as he’s cleared.”

It seemed like all but a foregone conclusion that Howard would return for the Lakers’ sixth preseason game. Yahoo! Sports first reported the Lakers planned their star center for him to return at that date. Howard talked openly following Saturday’s practice about what it would be like once he finally stepped on the court. Since Oct 10, Howard has participated in full-court five-on-five contact drills and hasn’t reported any setbacks.

But for now, the Lakers are listing second-round draft pick Robert Sacre as their starting center in their game notes.

“In this whole preseason to me, he’s looked good,” Brown said of Howard. “I’m not a medical doctor, but with the way he looks, I’d play him from day one. But I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Brown then laughed.

“When it comes to medical things,” Brown said. “There are lot of people who don’t know what I’m talking about at all and I’m okay with it. I’ll jump on the bandwagon.”


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Dwight Howard still noncommital on whether he’ll play on Sunday

Dwight Howard’s mood seemed to shift seemingly depending on the topic.

He sounded annoyed at the inevitable, albeit, repetitive question..

Has Howard rehabbed his surgically repaired back enough to play Sunday against the Sacramento Kings?

“Oh my God,” Howard said after finishing a full practice Saturday at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. “We’ll see tomorrow.”

Howard seemed joyful at other times. He imitated Kobe Bryant’s monotone voice and serious demeanor. Howard proclaimed “I love you,” to small forward Devin Ebanks before he entered the training room. Howard spotted an unfamiliar reporter in the media scrum and said, “Hi, new guy.” When he learned the reporter is Canadian, Howard sang the country’s national anthem out loud.

“I sing it in the shower almost every day,” Howard said. “I think I’m pretty good.”

Then Howard looked excited as he imagined what his Laker debut would entail.

“I’m tired of people asking me if I’m going to play, but I’m excited,” Howard said. “I think everybody is excited to see me play. It’s a great honor. I want to make sure I can sustain everything I can do so I don’t play one game and then sit out the next 20. I want to stay consistent.”

Hence, why Howard and the Lakers wouldn’t say anything about his playing status. The Lakers are officially listing him as day-to-day. Lakers Coach Mike Brown said he hadn’t yet heard from trainer Gary Vitti on whether will clear Howard to play in the Lakers’ sixth preseason game. And Howard vowed he has no idea when he’ll learn when he’ll step on the court for the first time in six months.

“I’ll be happy that’s the first time I played basketball in a long time. It might be a little emotional. You never know,” Howard said. “I hope it doesn’t happen that way where I get out and start crying. That might happen though. I might be that emotional in the first time playing.”

Soon enough, Howard acted playful on the same question that initially annoyed him.

“”What will make the final decision? What’s the guy from ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’” Howard said. “‘Your final answer.’ That’s the guy. He’ll make the final decision tomorrow.”

Actually, Vitti makes the decision.

“The guy to ask, the guy who has more information than me just walked through that door,” said Lakers Coach Mike Brown of Vitti. “He has not said that he[Howard] is playing tomorrow. My impression is that if Gary Vitti tells me he is going to play, then he’ll play.”

Nonetheless, Howard at least accomplished one hurdle.

Brown said he would have to play for a full practice on Saturday before even being considered to play. Since Oct 10, Howard has participated in full-court five-on-five contact drills. Brown also described Howard’s conditioning as “good,” though he conceded it could improve.

In a smaller development, Lakers reserve forward Jordan Hill also practiced with contact on Saturday for the first time since being diagnosed a herniated disk 11 days ago. Although he reported no setbacks, Hill remained non-committal on whether he’d play in the Lakers last two preseason games as hoped. He even sounded unsure if he’ll play Oct. 30 in the Lakers’ season opener against Dallas.

“We’re still trying to watch out for the back,” Hill said, “get my core stronger and see how it goes.”

As for Howard, he concluded his interview session saying this to the Canadian reporter he had just befriended.

“I’ll see you on the court, eh.”

Whether that happens at Staples Center or in the Lakers’ preseason finale Thursday in San Diego, Howard maintained feeling just as giddy.

“The first time stepping on the court,” Howard said, “I’d just be excited to play.”

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Lakers waive Ronnie Aguilar, Reeves Nelson

The Lakers made the first round of cuts to their training camp roster by trimming their frontline.

The team announced it has waived former Cal State Dominguez Hills product Ronnie Aguilar and former UCLA standout Reeves Nelson. With the cuts, the Lakers currently have 18 players on their training camp roster. The move could also pave way for the possible return of Dwight Howard. He could receive medical clearance following Saturday’s practice to appear in the Lakers preseason game Sunday against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.

The Lakers have 13 players with guaranteed contracts. NBA teams are allowed to field a maximum of 15 players on their roster, though they can only dress 12 of them.

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Kobe Bryant’s dad enjoys Lakers’ preseason game in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — As he drove the lane and attacked the basket, Kobe Bryant experienced a flashback that reminded him all too well of his childhood.

Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, the father of the Lakers’ most popular star, celebrated his 58th birthday by attending the Lakers’ 104-98 preseason loss Friday to the Sacramento Kings at the Thomas & Mack Center. With Joe, his mom, sisters (Sharia, Shaya) and nieces in the stands, Bryant had one more reason to kick his competitive juices into fifth gear, posting 22 points on seven-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes in the team’s liveliest preseason game.

“It feels good to have him here obviously,” Bryant said.

The Lakers felt the same way.

When Joe lingered outside of the Lakers’ locker room, Coach Mike Brown joke to him, “Hey, you can still play!” Joe’s NBA career included stops in Philadelphia (1975-79), San Diego (1979-82) and Houston (1982-83) before embarking on a wide-ranging career in Italy. That’s where Kobe learned the fundamentals that’s made him into an elite player.

“His basketball IQ,” Bryant said when asked what he admired about Joe’s approach to the game. “He and my uncle Chubby Cox really taught me and my cousins the entire game.”

So much that it didn’t take long for Kobe to beat his father at his own game. Joe’s well removed from playing and is currently coaching a basketball team in Thailand. But Bryant contends his father could still light it up on the court.

“He can play,” Bryant said. “The thing is, it’s not age. It’s the recovery the day after. That’s always the issue.”

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Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak on Slater Martin’s passing

Slater Martin, the defensive specialist Hall of Fame guard who won three of his four NBA titles, died Thursday.

Martin’s daughter-in-law, Becky, told the Associated Press that he died at nursing facility in Houston with a sudden illness after being admitted there on Monday. Martin was 86.

“Slater was one of the first great Laker players, and a proud link to our early days in Minnesota,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement.
“We’re saddened by his passing, and we send our condolences to his family.”
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Dwight Howard maintains it’s not definite he’ll play Sunday

LAS VEGAS — Everywhere he turns, Lakers center Dwight Howard has experienced a variance of what everybody’s seen on a family vacation.

Instead of hearing kids ask “Are we there yet” every five seconds in the back seat, Howard has fielded endless questions on when he’ll fully rehab from back surgery and return to the court. In the midst of a Yahoo! Sports report indicating he’s planning to return when the Lakers host the Sacramento Kings in a preseason game Sunday at Staples Center, Howard issued the same answer he’s heard to that never-ending question.

“There’s no information for me to provide,” Howard said before sitting out the Lakers’ preseason game Friday against Sacramento at the Thomas & Mack Center. “When I’m able to play, I’ll play. I’m looking forward to play. Hopefully I’ll be playing sooner than later, but there’s no statements that I’ve ever said that I’m going to play Sunday. I don’t want people to think that was the date set for me to come back. Somebody else put that out there.”

Laker fans shouldn’t arrive at Staples Center believing it’s a done deal Howard will step on the court Sunday against Sacramento in uniform. Lakers Coach Mike Brown said Howard will have to play in Saturday’s practice and receive medical clearance from the team’s training staff either after practice or following their team shootaround on Sunday. Howard didn’t participate in Friday’s shootaround, though he was already penciled out to play in Las Vegas. After Friday’s game, the Lakers play the Kings Sunday at Staples Center, the Clippers Oct. 24 at Staples Center and the Kings Oct. 25 in San Diego.

“I want to hopefully play a couple preseason games, at least one,” Howard said.
I think it’s very important for myself and for the team. But if the trainers don’t feel like I need to play right now, I won’t play. There’s no rush.”

Still, Howard understands why seemingly every fan, Twitter follower and reporter keeps pestering him with the same question about his playing status.

“People just want to see the new look Lakers,” Howard said. “The only thing I can control right now is what I do on the court and in practice, what I do in the weight room and what I do in the training room. I’m going to continue to do that. There’s no need to rush. What matters is being in the Finals. That’s the only thing that matters.”

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Pau Gasol to play Friday against Sacramento

LAS VEGAS — After sitting out the last preseason game out of fatigue concerns, Lakers forward Pau Gasol will play tonight against the Sacramento Kings here at Thomas & Mack Center.

Gasol better hope he feels rested enough after missing the Lakers’ 114-80 preseason loss Tuesday to the Utah Jazz at Honda Center. Lakers Coach Mike Brown said he plans to start shrinking the bench rotation for the team’s three remaining preseason games after tonight, including Sunday (Sacramento at Staples Center), Oct. 24 (Clippers at Staples Center) and Oct. 25 (Sacramento in San Diego).

“I’ll put a little pressure on our guys the last three games because I’ll probably play our starters their normal minutes,” Brown said. “They’ll start, come back and then start the second quarter and will end the game. Let’s see if we can get a win.”

For now, however, Brown hardly cares about the team’s 0-4 preseason record. He’s used that time fielding endless bench combinations featuring some who may not even make the final roster. Brown has limited playing time to all of his starters, including Kobe Bryant (24.3 minutes in three games), Steve Nash (18.8), Metta World Peace (25) and Gasol (25.3). And Brown has expressed little concern on whether Dwight Howard fully rehabs his surgically repaired back in time to appear in a preseason game.
Brown said he will continue that approach tonight against Sacramento.

He plans to give Andrew Goudelock the majority of minutes at the backup point guard spot, while giving most minutes at the backup shooting guard spot to training camp invitee Chris Douglas-Roberts. And Brown plans to play his veteran starters only briefly in the second half.

“This was my plan the whole time,” Brown said. “The last three or four games, I would play my guys normal minutes.”

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Jordan Hill not yet cleared for contact

LAS VEGAS — Despite playing in about two-thirds of Thursday’s practice involving non-contact drills, Lakers forward Jordan Hill hasn’t shown enough improvement in his herniated disk for him to make the next step in rehabbing his herniated disk.

“They said he did a nice job for it being non contact,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown
said regarding the training staff.following the Lakers’ shootaround Friday at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The Lakers play there will play the Sacramento Kings here tonight in their fifth preseason game. “What they’re looking at now is they will continue to evaluate him and decide when they can go from having no contact to him having contact. But right now, Jordan can’t have contact.”

The Lakers haven’t put a timetable on Jordan’s return, other than ruling him out for tonight’s game against Sacramento. Hill is expected to provide plenty of energy and size on the Lakers’ bench unit. In the Lakers’ preseason debut Oct. 7 against Golden State in Fresno, Hill posted 10 points on five-of-11 shooting in 20 minutes, providing a mix of hustle plays and some surprisingly outside range.

After Friday’s game, the Lakers have four remaining preseason games, including Sunday against the Kings at Staples Center, Oct. 24 against the Clippers at Staples Center and Oct. 25 against the Kings in San Diego. Brown concluded Hill is “probably further behind than Dwight [Howard],” who has continued rehabbing from his back surgery in April.

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Mike Brown says it’s not definite Dwight Howard will play Sunday

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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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter.
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