James, out since March 20 with a high ankle sprain (20 games total), will start and not be on a minutes restriction. But Lakers coach Frank Vogel said they would try to keep him to a “reasonable” amount.
“Obviously he’s worked extremely hard, extremely diligently — as you would expect from him — to get his body back and right,” Vogel said.
“He thought coming off of this trip that it’s time for him to return to the lineup. So we’re excited to have him back.”
James went through a “final test run” at the Lakers practice facility Friday morning, according to Vogel, and confirmed he would play upon arriving at Staples Center approximately five hours before tipoff.
“I gave him full support if he wanted to take more time and he came in tonight and made the decision when he got to the arena that he was going to play,” Vogel said.
Vogel said the team has not determined how it will handle James in the four remaining back-to-back scenarios it has in these final 10 games.
At the time of the injury, the Lakers had the No. 2 record in the Western Conference, and James was considered one of the front-runners in the league’s MVP discussion.
The Lakers have lost four of their past five games and are 8-13 overall this season without James, who is averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists.
Los Angeles, which started the season 21-6, now sits fifth in the West at 36-26 and has just a one-game lead over the No. 6 Dallas Mavericks and a two-game lead over the No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers with 10 games left in the regular season.
While James’ return was welcome news, Vogel admitted that there is a lot for his team to get right before the playoffs begin.
“My comfort level, it’s not enough,” Vogel said. “Not in any way, shape or form. But it’s just the nature of what we’re in. And we have to make the best of it and compete through it and come playoff time, we’ll be ready.”
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.