Dwight Howard to exercise caution

HOUSTON -- Rockets star center Dwight Howard said Wednesday he's getting close to returning to the court after missing the last 23 games with swelling in his right knee.

When he does return, Howard said he expects to be restricted to 20 to 25 minutes per game until he can build his endurance, and he won't play in back-to-back games.

The Rockets have three back-to-backs remaining, including one at the end of the March when they travel to Washington and Toronto.

Howard didn't reveal when he'll return, though it's expected to be in less than two weeks.

"Pretty close, pretty close. I can't wait to get back on the floor," Howard said. "It sucks being injured and trying to come back from an injury. When people see you they say, 'Oh he looks good,' and sometimes they don't understand the whole process. I'm happy the rehab process is almost over with and I can get back on the floor and join my team."

Howard practiced with the team Monday for the first time and then took two days off to give his knee rest and treatment.

Howard doesn't feel any pain and noted his knee is just achy.

"I'll be back when I feel like I'm ready, in the best shape and when my body is healthy enough to play and maintain itself," said Howard, who has averaged 16.3 points and 11 rebounds per game this season. "I know a lot of people want me to play and I want to play as bad as anybody. The most important thing is this doesn't happen again. We want to make a deep push in the playoffs this year, and I can't afford to miss any playoff games."