Howard expected to play against L.A.

DALLAS -- Josh Howard, nursing a left thigh bruise that kept him out of Saturday night's home loss to Utah, practiced for a second consecutive day Tuesday and appears on track to play Wednesday night when the Mavericks welcome the Los Angeles Lakers to the American Airlines Center for the first time this season.

That's the good news for the Mavs. The bad news is starting center Erick Dampier and reserve forward Tim Thomas are questionable and newly acquired forward Eduardo Najera is doubtful.

Dampier has been dealing with a left knee effusion, or fluid on the knee. He missed the Mavs' 35-point blowout loss in Los Angeles on Jan. 3, a game in which Lakers center Andrew Bynum took advantage in the paint for 19 points on 8-of-8 shooting. Dampier returned Saturday against Utah, but is having recurring issues with the knee.

"It's an example of why he's so important to us," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, referring to Bynum's big game in Dampier's absence. "But he's important to us at both ends, not just defensively guarding Bynum and [Pau] Gasol. But offensively he makes a lot of important things happen for us with his screening and movement and activity around the basket."

Thomas did not practice Tuesday after stepping on teammate Drew Gooden's foot and hurting his right Achilles during Monday's practice. Carlisle didn't seem overly optimistic that Thomas would be available, although Thomas is listed as day to day.

Najera made his first public appearance in his second stint with the Mavs on Tuesday, and he made it clear that he's thrilled to be playing in Dallas again. Najera played just 13 games this season with the Nets because of a lower back problem. He said he's not 100 percent, but getting closer. He said if the Mavs desperately need him against L.A., he could give it a go.

"I need to build up. I need to get back into doing my rehab. That's the most important thing right now," Najera said. "Playing might not be that far [off], I don't think, but I definitely have to work on my strength -- more than anything on my back. We'll see. If they want me to play tomorrow, I'll be happy to do it. For this team, I can play on one leg, I don't care."