- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2019

Months after Dwight Howard‘s Nov. 30 back operation, the Wizards center has started his first on-court work as part of his rehab.

A day after his flight was initially delayed because of snow, Howard rejoined the Wizards in the District on Thursday to begin the next phase of his recovery. Before then, the 33-year-old was in his hometown of Atlanta, where he spent the last few months rehabbing.

Howard, who was originally supposed to miss two-to-three months, spent Thursday participating in light-shooting, coach Scott Brooks said. He was seen shooting free throws near the end of practice.

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Despite the progress, Brooks said there’s still no timetable for when Howard will return to the lineup.

“It was good to have him back,” Brooks said. “He just has a good way about him. He’s always positive. He always has a good spirit about him. He’s happy to be back, so now it’s just a phase of getting him on the court. Don’t know how long that’s going to be. It’s just going to be day-to-day, just getting some work in and we’ll go from there.”

Brooks said Howard did not take any contact Thursday.

It is unclear if Howard will return this season. If he does, the eight-time All-Star will join a Wizards team vastly different than what he expected when he signed a two-year, $11 million contract with Washington last summer.

Since Howard’s last game on Nov. 18, the Wizards have made a number of trades and lost star point guard John Wall to a season-ending heel injury (and torn Achilles.) In Howard’s absence, the Wizards have used a variety of centers — and second-year big man Thomas Bryant has emerged as an intriguing developmental prospect for Washington.

But now that Howard is around the team on a daily basis, Brooks said he thinks the former MVP candidate can help younger players like Bryant and forward Bobby Portis develop — even when he’s not practicing with them.

Dwight is going to be a guy that’s able to (share his knowledge) for the next how many weeks ‘til he gets on the court,” Brooks said.

Howard’s re-arrival in the District came day before Friday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Wizards’ first outing after the All-Star Break. The Wizards entered the break with a 24-34 record, three games back of the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons in the playoff race.

Howard has appeared in only nine games this season, averaging 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. A buttocks injury sidelined him for all of training camp, the preseason and the beginning of the season.

Howard made his season debut on Nov. 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But the injury never fully subsided and he logged only seven minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 18, Howard’s last game to date.

The Wizards’ medical staff determined a herniated disc in Howard’s back was causing severe nerve irritation and gluteal pain — leading to Howard’s surgery.

“It’s going to be slow,” Brooks said of Howard’s recovery. “It’s going to be a process that he’s going to have to go through all the steps and check all the boxes off. I’m not sure how much running he’s going to do this week. We’ll find out soon.”

Those steps include Howard progressing to playing in five-on-zero simulations and to eventually practicing with his teammates.

Speaking to reporters in December from Atlanta, Howard said he is “pain-free” after the surgery. Before, Howard could not sit down properly and used pillows during games to lay down on instead of sitting on the bench near his teammates.

Howard told reporters he can now sit down, touch his toes and put his socks on. “All stuff I couldn’t do before surgery,” he said.

Howard is approaching exactly the three-month mark since his surgery. The former All-NBA first-teamer said he understood the rehab process after having undergone another back procedure in 2012.

“I know what it’s going to take for me to get where I need to get to,” Howard said in December. “And for me, it ‘s kind of like the fun part, you know? I got to crawl and jump and get myself back to the top. So that’s the fun part for me. I like a challenge.”

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