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The Jazz have been reluctant to place a time frame on Josh Howard's return.

But if the veteran small forward had one, he'd be ahead of schedule.

Despite initially being ruled out for the season, Howard continues to eye a mid-to-late April activation. He started rehabbing his left knee Monday in Dallas, and made enough progress to rejoin the Jazz on Friday about two hours before tipoff against Sacramento.

"I've just been showing great improvement. … I just need a good jump on it, and I'll see how it goes each week," said Howard, who underwent successful arthroscopic surgery March 22.

Worst-case scenario, Howard hopes to be back for Utah's first playoff game in late April if the Jazz qualify for the postseason. But he was informed his rehab might only take 2-3 weeks, and he's eyeing the week of April 16 as a possible time to ramp up activities.

"Right now, you can't even tell I had anything done," said Howard, who's averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 41 games (18 starts).

Howard said his decision to receive a second opinion prior to surgery was key. He spent the last four days participating in quadriceps strengthening, hip work and stationary-bike riding to regain his range of motion.

"It wasn't nothing new. … It's like clockwork," Howard said.

Howard drew pregame high-fives and shoutouts from teammates Al Jefferson, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors inside Utah's locker room. The nine-year veteran acknowledged simply being around his teammates was an emotional lift.

"It's all in your head," Howard said. "Its all about how you carry yourself and the type of your injury. Fortunately for me, I [already] had probably the worst knee injury, the ACL tear. That took a lot of mental comeback for me right there. When the doc told me about this one, I was like, 'Nah, I'm going to fight through it.' "

Howard watched Utah's recent games on television - he wanted to be in Boston on Wednesday so he could've stood up to Celtics forward Kevin Garnett - and hopes to travel with the Jazz on their upcoming two-game road trip against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland.

How bad does Howard want to return? He's willing to use ankle weights in his hotel room if it'll help him put on a uniform faster.

"You forget how much you miss these guys, especially when they're gone," Howard said.

Twitter: @tribjazz

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