Dwight Howard shows improvement

While Magic center Dwight Howard's back has "showed significant improvement," the operating surgeon declined to say the Orlando star will be ready by the start of the 2012-13 season, but is "optimistic" Howard will return next season.

"(Howard) showed significant improvement from his preoperative condition that necessitated mandatory spine surgery," Dr. Robert Watkins said in a statement released on Tuesday outlining Howard's progress since undergoing surgery on Friday to repair a herniated disk.

"While it is anticipated that Dwight will not be able to participate in the Olympics," Watkins said, "I am very optimistic that he will be able to play next season."

Howard is no longer hospitalized but Watkins has "advised Dwight not to travel and to undergo rehabilitation treatment for the next three weeks in Los Angeles."

Howard had been complaining of a sore back since early March and Watkins discovered the herniated disk while examining Howard on April 13.

Howard's season ended with him averaging 20.6 points and an NBA-best 14.5 rebounds. Before this season, Howard had missed only two games in his career because of injury, though he sat out a handful of other times because of illness or suspension.

The Magic have clinched a playoff spot and are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings, two games behind fifth place Atlanta and two games ahead of both New York and Philadelphia who are seventh and eighth, respectively.