Lakers' Dwight Howard practices

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Just more than five months removed from back surgery, Dwight Howard played in the Los Angeles Lakers' first practice of the season Tuesday without limitation, participating in the same set of drills and activities as his teammates.

While Howard already has been ruled out of the Lakers' preseason opener Oct. 7, according to the team, the All-Star center said he wants to play in an exhibition or two before the regular season tips off Oct. 30.

"Hopefully, I'll be back for some preseason games," Howard said. "I think we're going to need it for chemistry and all that stuff. But, like I said, I'm not going to rush it. I'm going to continue to practice. We've had some great practices. Today was really good, so I'm happy."

A source who witnessed Howard at the portion of practice that was closed to the media described Howard's level of play to ESPNLosAngeles.com as "unbelievable."

"He was dunking everything in sight," the source said. "He looks like he can play in an NBA game today."

Howard said he was not surprised to be going full tilt considering how hard he has been training leading up to the start of camp. But Howard's effort did catch at least one of his teammates off guard.

"He worked just as much as everybody else, so that was good," Pau Gasol said. "I didn't expect that to happen today."

Lakers coach Mike Brown said Howard had been working out six days a week at the practice facility with assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Chuck Person for the past month.

While the Lakers did not run any live 5-on-5 full-court contact drills during Tuesday's initial practice, Howard was involved in contact situations of 2-on-2, 3-on-3 and 1-on-1.

"He looked good," Brown said.

As impressive as Howard was, Brown said the decision as to when Howard makes his debut will be up to the Lakers' training staff.

"Whenever he's ready, he'll be ready," Brown said. "It's our trainers' jobs. Our trainers do a terrific job of it. They're out here the whole practice and if they feel they need to pull him out of it, they'll pull him out."

Ultimately, Howard tried to measure expectations as to when his first game appearance will occur.

"All I know is that we had a great practice today," Howard said. "I don't know the date when I'm going to return, but I'm looking forward to (Wednesday's) practice to see how my body feels when I wake up.

"We can only go by time right now and see how I feel after practice. We're not in a rush. These guys need me for the whole season, not a couple preseason games."