Dwight Howard is making his first steps toward recovery from season-ending back surgery.
The All-Star center for the Orlando Magic was scheduled to begin his post-operative walking program Saturday, one day after a herniated disc was repaired and some fragments removed during a procedure in Los Angeles. Howard's surgeon, Dr. Robert Watkins Sr., said Friday's operation was "uneventful" and Howard was resting comfortably.
"The more formal core stabilization program will begin in three weeks," Watkins Sr., who was assisted in the procedure by son Dr. Robert Watkins Jr., said in a statement. "The timing of his return to basketball will depend on his response to the rehabilitation program. We anticipate a full recovery."
Howard will miss the remainder of the Orlando season, including playoffs. He also will not play for the United States this summer at the London Olympics.
"Nobody wants to play without Dwight headed into the playoffs," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Friday.
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.
Orlando entered Saturday's game at Utah sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the spot that seems most likely for the Magic to finish barring some major shifts in the final days of the regular season. After Saturday, Orlando has games with Denver, Charlotte and Memphis remaining before a likely first-round playoff matchup with Indiana would open next weekend.
The Magic were 33-21 with Howard in the lineup this season. They entered Saturday 3-5 without Howard, the winner of the last three NBA defensive player of the year awards, something he's a strong candidate for again.
"We don't have the margin of error to make mistakes defensively right now," Van Gundy said.
Orlando is also going into the final stretch of the season without forward Hedo Turkoglu, who has not played since April 5 because of a facial fracture. It's still unclear if Turkoglu will be available for the postseason.
Magic general manager Otis Smith told Van Gundy of the plan for Howard to have surgery Thursday night, adding yet another chapter to a drama-filled season for Orlando.
Howard entered the year as the subject of trade rumors, given that he could have opted out of his contract after this season and become a free agent. He decided that he would not exercise that option, then found himself in another firestorm last month when Van Gundy — in response to a report from an Orlando television station — said Howard wanted him fired, something the player denied.
Then the back problems started, first diagnosed as spasms after the Magic said Howard was struck by Dallas Mavericks center Brendan Haywood in a game March 30. Howard sat out two games, then returned for two more — finishing the second of those, a game against Philadelphia on April 7, with 20 points and 22 rebounds. But even taking a seat on the bench for timeouts was too painful for Howard to bear that night, and he sought a second opinion a few days later in Los Angeles.
There, the disc problem was diagnosed. By then, the Magic were already prepared for bad news.
"I don't think the news of the surgery did anything one way or another to our group," Van Gundy said. "I think we've been operating with the expectation that we wouldn't have him back. ... I don't think this was unexpected. I think the surgery, guys may not have expected, but the fact he wasn't going to play the rest of the way, that's the assumption we've been operating on for a long time."