When the Washington Wizards signed Dwight Howard this summer, the organization envisioned his potential for nightly double-doubles opening up the middle for star guard John Wall, but the oft-injured big man’s status is up in the air on the eve of this week’s season opener.
Howard practiced for the first time Monday at the DC Entertainment and Sports in Southeast with his teammates for nearly two hours, a promising sign for the eight-time All-Star center, who missed the entire preseason with a strained piriformis muscle.
“He looked great,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “He did absolutely everything. It was probably our best practice [since] training camp.”
Brooks said it remains uncertain if Howard will be ready when the regular season begins Thursday against the Miami Heat at Capital One Arena in Northwest.
Howard, who sat out of training camp and all five preseason games with the injury, said that though though he hasn’t been able to develop any chemistry with his teammates, he stayed in shape through physical therapy, running and lifting weights.
Though the injury was initially thought to be Howard’s bothersome back, it turned out to be the piriformis, a muscle in the buttocks.
Howard briefly explained how the nerves affected his muscle in terms of running, walking and sitting.
“Basically, I was getting on my own nerves the past couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s very painful to sit down, run, walk. Glad that part is over.”
As for work on the court, Howard said he’s still learning the team’s particular offensive plays, especially pick-and-roll sets with Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal.
“Me not being on the court in the summer and for preseason is going to be tough, but these guys are great,” he said. “I think we’re going to have an unbelievable year.”
Backup center Ian Mahinmi started in Howard’s place during Washington’s 4-1 preseason. The Wizards also played some small-ball with power forward Markieff Morris at center.
Mahinmi only played 12 minutes, but the other four logged 23 minutes or more in a 102-97 victory Oct. 10 on the road against the Detroit Pistons. John Wall scored 32 points and dished out nine assists in 32 minutes as Washington shot 10-for-32 from three-point range.
Brooks has said he wants the team to attempt more 3-pointers. Although Washington tied for third in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 37.5 percent last season, the team ranked near the bottom in attempts at fewer than 27.
The Eastern Conference is for the taking with perennial All-Star LeBron James deciding to head west with the Los Angeles Lakers. Washington has been on the cusp of the Eastern Conference’s top tier in recent years, but consistency — or lack thereof — has held the team back.
The Wizards hope to improve on last season’s 20-15 record against losing teams. By comparison, the Toronto Raptors, which ousted Washington in the first round of the playoffs in April and was last season’s top seed in the Eastern Conference, lost only two such games.
The new-look Raptors with All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard visit the District on Saturday. Washington will then embark on a five-game West Coast trip that begins Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers.