Josh Howard returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out the past week, and missing the past three games, with a pulled left hamstring. Howard has had a stop-and-go season because of his surgically-repaired left knee, and the hamstring was his latest setback.

Howard is expected to return for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. “I’m feeling okay, it’s still a little bit sore. I’m just fighting through it. That’s all I can do,” Howard said. “Other than that, I’m hopefully going to give it shot Saturday.”

Howard said he has made it goal to finish out the season, even if he has to adhere to minutes restrictions. “Just as far as minutes, I guess I have to watch them, and like I’ve said, just show the team, like I’ve already shown it, that I want to be here. I just got to stay healthy and get out there.”

Howard said the hamstring injury came as a result of the wear and tear on his left knee. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament on Feb. 22, 2010, and had surgery a few weeks later.

“Just running down the court, and I think it’s the combination of rehabbing the knee, running in a different way than I’m used to. It’s still working its kinks out,” Howard said. “Like I said before, it’s a 12-month injury, which I’m just now getting to so pretty much after the season’s over with, I know I’ll be on the upswing recovering. I’m looking forward to that. Overall, getting out there and doing the things that I could do for the time that I did is pretty good.”

Coach Flip Saunders said Howard’s presence on the floor makes a difference because of his “intelligence. He just knows how to play. Makes the game easier for everybody. Adds a lot of competitiveness. Makes the game much easier for John [Wall]. John doesn’t feel he has to do as much, because he has another ball handler out there, another guy that can make plays, not just looking to score all the time.”

Saunders added that the team knew that Howard would have some struggles as he came back from his left knee injury. “We were hoping he wouldn’t have a setback when he came back, which he did. It’s frustrating, but he’s got [19] games now. He can stay healthy these 18 games, keep progressing, build a little bit of momentum for next year.”