Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis expects to return Thursday vs. Dallas Mavericks

LOS ANGELES -- Lakers star Anthony Davis says he will make his return from a nine-week absence on Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks, so long as his right leg responds well to Wednesday's practice.

Davis said he now feels "100 percent" healthy from the calf strain and tendinosis in his right leg but detailed the scary moments after the injury occurred.

"I never tore an Achilles, but I kind of felt like sharp pain, like it was ripping, which I had never felt before," Davis said. "... So I knew it was something serious. It wasn't as serious as it could have been, but it was still a pretty significant injury."

Prior to undergoing an MRI, which confirmed the tendinosis he was already playing with and revealed a calf strain, the 28-year-old Davis feared the diagnosis and wondered if the Lakers' bid for a championship repeat would have to go on without him.

"I did think that I had probably partially torn it," he said, "which I was definitely afraid."

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Davis will start against the Mavericks and that his playing time will be limited to the 15-minute range for the first two games he plays. The restriction will be gradually released from there, Vogel said, in consultation with Davis and the team medical staff.

"If you're out for this long, it usually takes a couple of weeks, to be honest, to really feel like you have your legs under you and you're in rhythm and your rhythm and timing is back, as well as working in new teammates," Vogel said. "So it's going to take some time."

Davis said that LeBron James, sidelined with a right high ankle sprain for the last month, still "probably has a couple weeks or so" before joining him in the lineup.

L.A. has gone 14-16 since Davis went out on Feb. 14, falling from No. 2 to No. 5 in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers are 2½ games in back of the fourth-place Denver Nuggets with 14 games left in the regular season.

"It's going to be my job to try to help the team stay afloat until he comes back as well and stay fighting," said Davis, who is averaging 22.5 points and 8.4 rebounds in 23 games. "But this team has done more than we can ask for."

Vogel said that playing through Davis for a period of time with James still on the mend could help L.A. avoid in-game regression when the four-time MVP sits to rest.

"Even when Bron comes back, he doesn't play 48 minutes," said Vogel, who limited James to a career-low 33.9 minutes per game before he got injured. "We've got to win the minutes when he's out. This has been an area that's been hit-or-miss for us the last two years, performing when Bron's out. These extended minutes should be a silver lining in helping us be better in those stretches."

While the Lakers wait on James, Davis will get his first chance to play with L.A.'s other AD -- Andre Drummond -- for the first time since the big man was picked up off the buyout market.

"I think it's gonna be fairly quick for us to really adapt to each other because we both are guys who want to learn from each other and who want to win at the end of the day," Davis said of the former All-Star center. "And when you've got two guys who want to win, you find ways to make it happen."

For Davis, who said he tried to emulate Lakers reserve Jared Dudley while he was sidelined by being more vocal with his teammates, the long layoff reminds him of last season -- when the Lakers followed up a 4½-month hiatus because of the coronavirus by winning the championship.

"I think there's some similarities," Davis said. "I mean, I think we were playing good basketball before the hiatus, and then it stopped and we had to get back and find that rhythm again. Find that togetherness and that camaraderie.

"It's kind of the same thing."