NEW YORK — The odds of injured center Dwight Howard appearing in a preseason game and being ready to play in the Washington Wizards' Oct. 18 season opener are growing slimmer.

Howard returned to Washington on Monday to receive a pain-relief injection for his lower back, according to Coach Scott Brooks. The setback began Saturday when Howard participated in a light workout with coaches. Although Howard did not take contact in the workout, he woke up Sunday feeling soreness.

After traveling with the team to New York, the pain continued. Howard saw a specialist Monday afternoon and the team decided to send him back to Washington, Brooks said. Howard will remain in the District to rest following the procedure while his teammates continue a two-game trip to Detroit.

“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,” Brooks said. “I don’t know what that means for the first game, but we’re just gonna take it day by day.”

The injury has forced Howard to be a spectator in every team practice and exhibition game to date. During the team’s media day on Sept. 24, Howard and Brooks indicated the pain was minor.

“The good part is, it happened now so we can try to be able to manage it and get him ready for the season,” Brooks said during media day. “But like I said, it’s nothing to be overly concerned. It’s just a little sore.”

However, the latest hitch in Howard’s weeks-long recovery does not offer optimism for an Oct. 18 debut.

The Wizards conclude the preseason schedule Friday against the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. Although players will have five days of practice and recovery before the regular season begins, the extended stretch still might not be enough to prepare Howard for the real games.

Before the Wizards played their third preseason game, against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Brooks was asked whether “it was safe to say” that if Howard does not appear in one of the team’s five exhibition games, then he will not play in the season opener against Miami.

“Yeah, that’s safe,” Brooks said.

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