The Los Angeles Lakers can’t bank on having a completely healthy LeBron James for the rest of the season. The high ankle sprain that James suffered on March 20 will likely affect him during the entirety of L.A.’s championship defense.

James returned Friday from a 20-game absence. The 36-year-old couldn’t make it through his second contest back, sitting in the final half of the fourth quarter with ankle soreness. James didn’t play the following night, and ESPN reports that he’s expected to sit Thursday and Friday night in back-to-back matchups with the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on “Get Up” Wednesday morning that James probably can’t get his ankle fully healthy until the offseason. Wojnarowski believes James will try to return during the regular season, potentially later next week.

The Lakers only have seven games left on their regular-season schedule. Los Angeles will close out the season against the Houston Rockets (May 12), Indiana Pacers (May 15) and New Orleans Hornets (May 16).

Maybe James would’ve waited longer to return if the Lakers were higher in the Western Conference standings. After going 8-12 without James in the lineup, the defending champs are fighting to get back into the playoffs.

Los Angeles is the No. 6 seed in the West, just ahead of the cutoff for the NBA’s new play-in tournament. The Lakers have the same record as the No. 5 seed Dallas Mavericks with a slim one-game lead over the No. 7 seed Blazers.

Friday’s matchup between Los Angeles and Portland could go a long way in determining which team goes straight to the playoffs and which one will have to earn a postseason berth in the play-in tournament.

In his brief return to the lineup, James averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 30 minutes per game. The Lakers were defeated by both the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings at home.

The Lakers on Monday did manage to beat the Denver Nuggets without James. Anthony Davis had one of his better games since returning from injury, putting up 25 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

With James expected to return, even at less than 100%, the Lakers are still favored to win the West and reach the 2021 NBA Finals.

 LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images | Patrick Smith