ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - While Dwight Howard begins his rehabilitation regimen following season-ending back surgery, his Orlando Magic teammates said they are already preparing for both the mental and on-court adjustments of not having him for the playoffs.
For the first time in his NBA career Howard was not in the Magic's arena for their regular season home finale against Charlotte. Under the advice of his doctors, Howard is remaining in the Los Angeles area to rehab for at least the next three weeks.
Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed Howard's surgery last week, released a statement saying though he's advised him not to travel, that his post operation examination "showed significant improvement from his preoperative condition that necessitated mandatory spine surgery." He will be re-examined sometime this week.
By staying out west, though, it means Howard won't be able to be on the sidelines for the Magic's playoff run.
Though it will be an adjustment on the court without him, Howard's teammates said they support the decision.
"He's got to do what he's got to do," forward Ryan Anderson said. "But the best thing for him is to rehab and get back stronger."
It was "Fan Appreciation Night" at the Magic's Amway Center on Wednesday and forward Glen Davis spoke to the crowd before the game, alluding to all the adversity the team has faced this season that reached a peak with Howard's recent surgery.
"I just want to thank you guys for sticking by us this season," Davis said. "I know it's been tough, but in spite of everything we play for you guys."
Orlando's first-round playoff series could begin as early as Saturday and currently the plan is to leave for the site of that series immediately after Thursday's finale at Memphis.
The Magic were 33-21 in the 54 games Howard played in this season, holding opponents to 43 percent shooting. Entering Wednesday's game with the Bobcats, Orlando was 3-7 without him, allowing opponents to average 50 percent shooting from the field in those games.
Guard Jason Richardson said the good thing is that they have already made several changes since Howard initially was sidelined.
"It's a big adjustment not having Dwight, he corrects many of our mistakes," he said. "So now we have to do the extra job and the extra stuff ... because we don't have him back there.
"We just have to stay together. That's all we can do is stay together, as a team and go out there and go play for each other."