Dwight Howard returns to practice

HOUSTON -- For the first time since he suffered a right knee injury, Houston Rockets star center Dwight Howard practiced with the team Monday.

Howard has missed the past 22 games with swelling in his knee and isn't expected to play Tuesday against Orlando. However, with Howard practicing, there is an expectation that he will return this season.

The 29-year-old is expected to be out approximately 10 to 14 more days, according to a source. The goal is for Howard to play about 10 regular-season games before the playoffs begin.

"He didn't have a hard practice today," coach Kevin McHale said. "He was able to do some things. It was good to see him out there. Now he's just got to get comfortable.

"At this stage, this is the start of coming back. Up to this point, he hasn't really been on the floor. Everything he's done has been strengthening the knee, resting the knee, trying to get the inflammation out of the knee and all that stuff. Now we'll see how he feels after he does some basketball stuff."

Howard has been traveling with the Rockets, working out alone and doing two-on-two drills. McHale said he needed to see Howard practice with the team before getting his hopes up for a potential return.

In February, Howard received a bone marrow aspirate injection in his knee, and it was determined that he would miss six to eight weeks. That timetable is nearly up.

He has missed 34 games this season for various health issues and is averaging 16.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.

McHale said the Rockets have missed Howard's ability to protect the rim on defense and his ability to take pressure off leading scorer James Harden on offense.

"He looked good. He practiced a little bit today, so we were happy to have him practice and kinda have him in the mix," Harden said. "Hopefully he can get a couple more practices under his belt, and hopefully he'll be ready to go soon."

Information from ESPN's Ramona Shelburne contributed to this report.