Dwight Howard out Friday, maybe much longer

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UPDATE 11:10 pm: Dwight Howard could be out longer than anyone thought — the specialist in Los Angeles diagnosed him with a herniated disc in his back.

UPDATE 2:30 pm: Dwight Howard has flown to Los Angeles where he will get a second opinion on his back problems, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

He has had a previous MRI and there had been no structural issues, it was just muscular, according to both Howard and the team. While the Magic could use him to return soon, what really matters is that he is back when the playoffs start in two weeks. Orlando isn’t going to win a postseason game without him.

12:54 pm: The Orlando Magic will be without Dwight Howard for their key matchup against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night and may well be without him for their next two games as well due to back spasms.

Missing Friday is not a shock — Howard said Thursday he wasn’t sure he would be able to go — but the extra days are a surprise and we find it out via a tweet from Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

#Magic C Dwight Howard out tonight against#Hawks & isn’t expected to play Sunday vs.#Cavaliers or Monday vs. #76ers.

Orlando has struggled at both ends of the floor without Howard, who has missed four of the team’s last six games since his back flared up. Yes, there is also plenty of Howard/Stan Van Gundy drama around the Magic, but Howard’s back issues are real.

The Magic are tied with the Hawks for the 5/6 seeds in the East, so Friday night is a crucial game. Although right now you may want to be the 6 seed and face Indiana in the first round and not the 5 seed that draws the red-hot Celtics. (Boston is two games back of Indiana and could catch them.)

What the Magic don’t want to do slide back three games and get caught by the 76ers — the Magic do not want to be the 7 seed and draw the Heat the first round.