Dwight Howard cleared for contact

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Dwight Howard has been cleared for limited five-on-five scrimmages with the Los Angeles Lakers in his latest step back from offseason surgery.

Howard won't play in the Lakers' next preseason game Wednesday night against Portland in Ontario, Calif.

Howard took another step forward when he participated in full-court, full-contact 5-on-5 drills on Tuesday. He'd previously been doing 5-on-5-on-5 drills, which is basically the same thing, except they allow for more rest in between.

"The doctor told him his wasn't as bad as mine," Howard said, when asked to compare his injury to Jordan Hill, who also has a herniated disc in his back. "The biggest thing is not to rush anything and just take his time."

The six-time All-Star center had surgery on his back last spring.

Howard hasn't projected a date for his Lakers' debut, but is hopeful he can participate in a preseason game. After Wednesday's visit from the Trail Blazers, the Lakers will have six more exhibitions before their season opener Oct. 30 against Dallas.

Like Howard, Hill also won't play in the Lakers' exhibition game Wednesday night.

Lakers coach Mike Brown said rookie center Robert Sacre would again start at center. Brown likely will play Antawn Jamison, Pau Gasol and Earl Clark the majority of minutes at power forward.

"We've got 20 guys in camp," Brown said. "We've got plenty of bodies tomorrow."

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and The Associated Press was used in this report.