Los Angeles Lakers Rumors: Could Dwight Howard Return for the Season Opener?

By Melissa Siegel, Posted: 10/01/12 11:23AM EDT

Ever since the Los Angeles Lakers traded for center Dwight Howard in the offseason, fans wondered exactly when they would see their prized offseason acquisition on the court. After all, Howard underwent back surgery last April, and his status for the start of the regular season was in doubt.

But Howard's Lakers debut may come sooner than we all thought.

Yahoo! Sports reported over the weekend that the center is aiming to return for the team's October 30 season opener against the Dallas Mavericks.

Of course, just because Howard says he wants to play in the opener doesn't mean he actually will. He still has not been cleared to participate in Lakers' training camp, which begins on Tuesday.

But according to Yahoo!, Howard has made great progress in his recovery over the past few weeks, and a return for the season opener is quite possible. The center has shown increased range of motion in his workouts but has not yet faced contact.

Yahoo! also reports that Howard believes his back is currently around 85 percent healed.

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The Lakers coaches and trainers have all of training camp and potentially the preseason to decide whether Howard is fit to play in the season opener. Even if he is not yet fully healthy, Howard at 85 percent is still better than most of the centers in the league.

Still, there is no need for the team to rush Howard back. The Lakers still have plenty of talent without him, and if they bring Howard back before he is ready, he could hurt himself more seriously.

Besides, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash should be able to carry the team through the first few weeks of the season. The Lakers have a relatively easy early schedule and do not play the defending conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder until December 7.

Just nine of the Lakers' 19 games before that matchup with the Thunder come against playoff opponents from a year ago. One of those playoff teams is the Orlando Magic, who are now likely in rebuilding mode without Howard. They also play four games against the bottom three teams in the Western Conference last season: Golden State, Sacramento, and New Orleans.

Of course, it is somewhat hard to judge a team's strength of schedule before the season starts, as every year some opponents are bound to surprise while others disappoint. Still, on paper it looks like the Lakers should be able to do just fine early in the season, even without Howard.

While Howard may want to play in the season opener against the Mavericks, the coaches and trainers should be as cautious as possible when dealing with their star player. After all, they will need him at 100 percent if they want to get past Eastern Conference powerhouses like the Miami Heat.

Hat tip to Pro Basketball Talk.

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