Charania reports that James is instead aiming to come back next week, when the Lakers play their final two games of the regular season at Staples Center:
“Sources tell me LeBron is aiming to return to the Lakers lineup next week. I’m told the likely return scenario is Tuesday or Wednesday when the Lakers play the Knicks and Rockets at home. The Lakers and James won’t rush his return from this sore right ankle. They’ll make sure that when he does return, he’s as close to 100% as possible.
“He’s already missed one game and he’s expected to sit out Thursday, Friday and Sunday against Phoenix to close out this week, and that will then allow the Lakers and James to reevaluate his injury into the final week of the regular season.”
James returning against the Knicks would give him four games to get his legs back under him before the playoffs, while a return against the Rockets — on the same night the Lakers will unveil their 2020 championship banner — would only leave him with three games to get acclimated.
James reportedly visited an ankle specialist this week, and head coach Frank Vogel hinted at the team’s practice on Wednesday that the team would prioritize James being at full health over their seeding. That very much lines up with this report, so without James and Dennis Schröder, the Lakers will really have their work cut out for them to tread water with few playmaking options until their star returns. They’ll need to show some real fight and sell out on defense if they want to avoid the play-in tournament now.
In a season full of challenges, these next three or four games could be their biggest one yet. None of it truly matters unless James is back and healthy, but the Lakers are running out of time for that to happen.