Kawhi Leonard's status still uncertain day before Clippers' playoff opener

At exactly 10:58 a.m. Saturday, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue’s latest injury update on Kawhi Leonard and his availability was cautious and optimistic for Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena.

Leonard’s teammate, Paul George, in his session with reporters before Saturday’s practice, said, “I do think at some point he’ll be with us.”

Lue was asked for some clarity on the inflammation in Leonard’s right knee because George’s comments made it sound as if the Clippers’ best player would miss the opener of the best-of-seven first-round series.

“We don’t know yet,” Lue said. “Yeah, we don’t know yet, but you got to prepare both ways. So, we’re not sure and the guys are ready. We’re ready to get going and so you just got to prepare for everything.”

Officially, Lue said, Leonard will be listed as questionable for the game.

Lue said Leonard went through some shooting drills Friday on the team’s off day from practice and that the plan was for him to shoot again Saturday.

“Today, he’ll be able to do more with a little bit more movement and he’s going to go through some of the practice as well,” Lue said. “So, we’ll see after today how he feels.”

Lue was asked if Leonard would have any contact in practice Saturday.

“No contact,” Lue said.

Leonard last played in an NBA game on March 31 at Charlotte. He sat out the last eight regular-season games.

Lue was asked what would determine if Leonard played Sunday since it would be three weeks since he last he played.

“I don’t know,” Lue said. “Medical. I’m not that.”

Presumably, a lot more will fall on the shoulders of Geogre and James Harden if Leonard is out, but Lue was not willing to entertain that scenario.

Well, we don’t know if there’s no Kawhi,” Lue said. “I wouldn’t say that as of right now. But it’s on all of us. It’s not just one player or two players. It’s all of us collectively doing our jobs and doing it the best we can do it. And so it’s not on one or two guys. It’s on everybody to produce as well as me and the coaching staff as well.”

The Clippers were 7-7 when Leonard didn’t play this season.

The Clippers had three impressive wins without Leonard, defeating Denver and Cleveland at home and Phoenix on the road.

That gives the them some hope against a Dallas team with its lethal backcourt of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Ivring.

“Yeah, if he can’t go, like we understand where we’re at,” Lue said. “And it was huge for us to get those wins against Denver and the comeback win against Cleveland, cause it’s been hard for us in the past to win without Kawhi. So, that was good to see, especially going down the stretch.

“We needed those games, we needed those wins and for those guys to step up and play the way they did and then also you got to include Phoenix in there as well. Those were some huge games for us.”

The Clippers had four days of practice to prepare for the fifth-seeded Mavericks. During that time, Lue said his group has had a “sharp focus” despite the Leonard injury saga.

“They’ve been great,” Lue said. “And so I give these guys a lot of credit for locking into the game plan, understanding what we’re trying to take away, what we’re willing to give up. But you don’t want to give up a lot of things, but what you’re willing to give up and we go through the plays now. They know it. We ain’t got to talk ‘em through it. They know exactly where they’re supposed to be, what they’re supposed to do. And so that’s a good feeling going into Game 1.”

George had another tremendous season for the Clippers, averaging 22.6 points (second on the team), 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He shot 47.1% from the field and 41.3% from three-point range.

He was a key cog in the Clippers’ success of earning the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

It’ll be interesting to see how his role changes if Leonard doesn’t play.

“Same responsibility I’ve been had when Kawhi’s been down,” George said.

Injuries kept George out of the playoffs the last two postseasons — the Clippers didn’t reach the playoffs in 2022.

But when the Clippers reached the conference finals in 2021 for the first time in franchise history, George was the star.

He averaged 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

Yet for the Clippers to reach their goal of winning the NBA championship, they’ll need a healthy Leonard by George’s side.

“I mean, he is working hard. Anybody that’s been injured — and this is Kawhi — he wants to be in this more than anybody and so he’s working hard,” George said. “He’s doing everything he can to be available. We all see it — the work he’s putting in, and when he’s ready he’ll be ready.”

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