"Unless somebody from our medical group tells me otherwise, he's out," said Lakers coach Mike Brown.
Howard, who joined the Lakers in August as part of a blockbuster trade, underwent season-ending back surgery last April. By all accounts, the three-time defensive player of the year is progressing nicely in his rehab and has practiced without restrictions.
But extreme caution is being exercised before Howard is cleared for game action, and the player and coach are fine with this approach.
"I want to play, but at the same time I want to make sure I'm ready to play and I'm in good shape to play," Howard said. "I know it's going to be different from practice to a game, (so) I just want to make sure I'm in good shape to play."
"It's always about the bigger picture, and I'll be as patient as I feel we need to," said Brown. "But the reality of it is it's up to our medical people first to clear him. So I'm not gonna push him or ask him to go play at all until I get medical clearance. We haven't gotten medical clearance, and so he's gonna keep doing what they say he's allowed to do.
"As soon as he can play, he plays. I don't know any other way (to put it), but it's up to the medical people to release him before he gets out there."
Brown admitted the training staff has discussed potential dates for Howard to take the floor, but declined to offer specifics.
"They've given me some information in terms of what dates they might target or what dates they may not target or whatever," said Brown. "But instead of me putting something out there, I'll just wait for them to say 'OK, he's clear.' It's all guessing right now."
Asked if there were any specific physical feats Howard needs to accomplish before gaining clearance, Brown offered a tongue-in-cheek test.
"He doesn't have to run a mile. He's got to bike from Beverly hills to Anaheim during rush hour. Not motor bike, but he's gotta ride a bicycle. Matter of fact, a 10-speed. And then if he can do that, I think (head trainer) Gary (Vitti) will release him. But I still gotta check with Gary."
Andrew Kamenetzky is a reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.