LeBron James 'Not at Full Strength' for Lakers vs. Warriors Because of Ankle Injury

Blake SchusterContributor IMay 20, 2021

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers arrives to the arena before the game against the Golden State Warriors during the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament on May 19, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

When LeBron James first returned from a high-ankle sprain in April that held him out for six weeks, the 36-year-old said he didn't think he'd ever be 100 percent healthy again in his career.

On Wednesday night, with the Golden State Warriors in town for a play-in game, James will put that axiom to the test in a playoff for the first time—and there's no question he still isn't back to 100 percent.

"[James] is not at full strength," head coach Frank Vogel told reporters before tipoff. "But he's getting there."

James is still expected to start Wednesday and will likely play a majority of the game. Since his return April 30, the forward has gone over 27 minutes in each of the four contests he's appeared in.

In a game that's set to decide whether Los Angeles will win the No. 7 seed, the Lakers need their MVP on the floor. The loser between L.A. and Golden State will play the winner between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Meanwhile, James is averaging 21.0 points, 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds since his injury, which isn't too far off his season averages of 25.0 points, 7.8 assists and 7.7 rebounds.

The four-time NBA champion averages 28.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists in the playoffs (260 games), including 41.6 minutes per contest.

Whether he reaches those marks Wednesday will likely have more to do with his health than his skill set. James remains one of the most dominating forces in the NBA even when he's not 100 percent.

The only difference now is everyone watching—and playing—knows it. And that'll have a lot of say in whether the defending champions are able to defend their title.