By Ben Golliver
Almost exactly six months after undergoing season-ending surgery on his back, Dwight Howard is reportedly close to making his preseason debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard, acquired from the Orlando Magic in a four-team blockbuster trade in August, has progressed through his rehabilitation program step-by-step during the preseason. He recently received clearance to participate in full-contact practices with his new teammates in advance of L.A.'s regular season opener on Oct. 30 against the Dallas Mavericks.
Barring any complications with Howard's back over the next couple days, the Lakers are optimistic the All-Star center will make their first appearance for them on Sunday.
"He is making progress," one Lakers source told Yahoo! Sports. "There is a good chance he can play Sunday."
The Lakers, who are 0-4 on the preseason heading into a Friday night game against the Kings in Sacramento, have had to make due with rookie center Robert Sacre, after reserve big man Jordan Hill also went down with a back injury. Howard, the league's premier center, is the key to rekindling their title hopes after two straight exits in the Western Conference semifinals. He will join three All-Star players -- Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Paul Gasol -- in L.A.'s starting lineup.
Howard, 26, was named to the All-NBA first team and the All-Defensive First Team last season. He averaged 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game in a drama-filled season with the Magic, one that saw him butt heads with former coach Stan Van Gundy and publicly request a trade. The Orlando Sentinel reported that back surgery was deemed necessary by doctors to help treat a herniated disc, an injury that Howard had attempted to play through. Howard underwent the procedure on April 20 in Los Angeles.