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Howard's status for Wizards' season-opener may be in doubt

Center received pain-relieving injection in his back on Monday

As of now, the status of Washington Wizards center Dwight Howard for the team’s first regular-season game seems unclear at best.

Howard has been sidelined throughout the preseason with pain in his lower back, an injury that has forced the big man to be a spectator in each of the Wizards’ practice and exhibition games to date. The Wizards beat the New York Knicks on the road last night, 110-98, but Howard was flown back to D.C. before the game for a pain-relieving injection in his back.

On Tuesday afternoon, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Howard saw a specialist while in New York who diagnosed him with a piriformis injury.

Candace Buckner of The Washington Post reports Howard will stay in D.C. to rest and recover while the Wizards move on to visit the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. Buckner reports Howard woke up Sunday feeling soreness in his back after participating in a light workout with Washington’s coaches. Here’s more from Buckner on Howard’s timetable for return:

Center Ian Mahinmi has stepped into the starting lineup in place of Howard during the preseason, and if Howard remains on the sideline, Mahinmi would conceivably continue in that role when the real schedule tips off Oct. 18. But even Mahinmi remains in the dark about Howard’s return.

“Honestly, I don’t know what the [status] is on Dwight. I don’t know [the answer to] ‘When is he going to come back?’ ” Mahinmi said of The Question of the preseason.

“I’m preparing myself to start,” Mahinmi said. “If he’s back, I’ve got to come off the bench. No big deal. I’ll come off the bench.”

Though the Wizards are not predicting Howard’s status, they’ve adjusted for an immediate future without him.

“He’s going to get a pain-relieving injection and hopefully early next week, he’ll be back on the court and be ready to play,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “I don’t know what that means for the first game, but we’re just gonna take it day by day.”

The Wizards close out their preseason slate on Friday with a home game against the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. After that, the Wizards have five days off before they host the Miami Heat in their season opener on Sept. 18. Buckner reports that before last night’s game in New York, Brooks was asked if “it was safe to say” Howard won’t play in the opener if he missed the preseason slate.

Brooks’ response? “Yeah, that’s safe.”

Last season, Howard ranked third in the NBA in rebounds per game (12.5), fourth in double-doubles (53), ninth in blocks (1.6) and 11th in field-goal percentage (55.5 percent). Howard’s most impressive game of the 2017-18 season came on March 21, when he finished with 32 points and a career-high 30 rebounds in a comeback win against the Nets.

Howard was traded by the Hornets to the Nets in the offseason. Brooklyn waived him shortly thereafter, allowing Howard to sign with the Wizards.

After spending the first eight seasons of his career with the Orlando Magic, Howard has played for the Los Angeles Lakers (2012-13), the Houston Rockets (2013-16), the Atlanta Hawks (2016-17) and the Hornets (2017-18) since then.