LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dwight Howard is set to make his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers in a preseason game against Sacramento on Sunday night.
Coach Mike Brown says Howard is in the Lakers' starting lineup with no restrictions on his playing time. Howard finally will hit the Staples Center court in his gold No. 12 jersey just more than six months after the six-time All-Star center had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.
Howard didn't play in the first five preseason games for the Lakers (0-5), who acquired him from Orlando in August through a four-team trade that sent All-Star center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. The Lakers have been cautious, but Howard was in full practices with his new teammates during almost every session of training camp.
"I thought he could have played ... from the beginning of training camp, because he's been participating in everything for a while," Brown said. "But it's not completely my call on injury issues. ... He looks good in practice. You'd think he'll look good out on the floor."
Howard had refused to commit to any timetable for his return since his first day with the Lakers, saying he wanted to make sure he was fully conditioned for the grind of an NBA season before stepping back on the court. The talkative center also refused to speculate on the percentage of his recovery from surgery, even while his teammates could see no limitations in his practice work.
Last week, Howard acknowledged he might feel some nerves when he finally joined Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the Lakers' home court with the jerseys of Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hanging in the rafters.
He prepared for Sunday's game quietly in the Lakers' locker room, listening to music on his headphones while putting on his uniform. Howard has inherited Bynum's locker near the door to the training room — and he also has Bynum's habit of wearing his headphones only half-covering his ears, allowing his teammates to hear his tunes.
When asked if he expected to be nervous, Howard replied: "I don't know. We'll see when I get out there."
Brown says he'll play his starters more extensively in the Lakers' final three preseason games to build chemistry for the regular season, using them together at the start of most quarters and finishing the game with his top five. Howard will start alongside Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace in Los Angeles' frontcourt, allowing Gasol to move out of the middle of Los Angeles' defense.
"We're going to finish the game with our starters, and we did game-plan a couple of things for Sacramento," Brown said. "So I'm excited to see if the guys can execute a couple of things."
Backup forward Jordan Hill was held out of the lineup for the Lakers, although he has returned to practice after herniating a disc in his back earlier in training camp.