Dwight Howard eager but defers to 'Father'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Dwight Howard is poised to make his Los Angeles Lakers debut Sunday night at Staples Center if the team's training staff clears him following the morning shootaround.

Yes, there's still an "if" in this situation. And while Howard said he'd like nothing more than to step on to the court and stop all the endless speculation about when he'll finally don the purple and gold, he's determined to take his cues from the Lakers' longtime trainer, Gary Vitti, whom he's playfully taken to calling "Father Vitti."

"I want to play," Howard said. "But it's all up to Father and the rest of the staff. I don't want to say I'm playing and then not play."

Howard has been able to practice fully with the team for several weeks. It's just a matter of building his conditioning up to a level where he won't get fatigued and risk another injury.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I'm tired of everybody asking me when I'm going to play. But I am excited.

"It's a great honor. I just want to make sure I'm able to sustain everything that I do so I won't have to play one game, the next game sit out."

Howard was a full participant in Saturday's lengthy practice. However, he did sit out of Friday morning's shootaround in Las Vegas before the Lakers' exhibition game against the Sacramento Kings.

Forward Jordan Hill also was a full participant in practice Saturday, the first time he's been cleared for full contact since herniating a disk in his back Oct. 6.

"I did everything the team did today," Hill said. "Apparently, I can do a lot. But we're still trying to watch out for the back, get my core stronger and see how it goes."

Asked whether he's still optimistic he'll return before the Lakers season opener on Oct. 30, Hill said, "Yeah. It's a possibility that I'll be back way before then."

Lakers coach Mike Brown continued to say that Howard would play if Vitti cleared him following Sunday morning's shootaround but that he was in no rush for Howard to make his Lakers debut.

"Everybody's excited about Dwight getting on the court," Brown said. "I'm just built a certain way that GV has a job and when he tells me it's going to happen, it's going to happen.

"I know it's going to be electric because my kids are excited about it. I just tell (his son) Elijah, don't tweet anything that's family business and I hope he listens."

Brown said he's always emphasized to Howard that he should be cautious in his recovery from back surgery in April.

"I told Dwight, before we even practiced, 'Big fella, whenever. Take your time. If you come back in January, great. February, great. I don't want you to rush. You figure it out with the medical people and we'll go from there, ' " Brown said.

"So to see him out on the floor practicing and in a competitive, 5-on-5 environment, it's been fun. Laker fans should be excited."

Asked how Howard's conditioning has looked during practices, Brown smiled and said, "He looks good to me. He looks real good. His conditioning is obviously something that will get better, but he looks real good to me."

Howard admitted that he was a little nervous for his Lakers debut.

"I'll be emotional," Howard said. "I can't wait to just get on the floor. I don't think it's going to be perfect, it's just the first game back. I think they guys will do a good job of getting me some easy shots, getting me going a little bit, getting some confidence and we'll go from there."

Lakers point guard Steve Nash smile and laughed a little when told Howard said he was a little nervous to make his debut.

"We've talked a little bit about it. It's like the high diving board at the pool and all your friends have jumped in and you've thought about it too long so now you're nervous. Then when you jump you're like, 'Why the hell was I nervous?' " Nash said.

"Dwight's the best center in the game, he looks great in practice. He needs to get out there, make a few mistakes, make contact with someone, dunk the ball a few times and it'll all be forgotten."